“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”
The month of April derives its name from Aprilis, the name given to it by the Romans. It has its origins in the name of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. For the Romans it signified ‘the month of Venus’. In the 13th century English borrowed the French Avril and this remained the name of this month as Averil for some 200 years before April took its place.
In sixteenth-century Europe, the start of the New Year was celebrated with festivities ending on April first.
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII revised the calendar to the one we know now. The French were the first to adopt the Gregorian calendar.
With the adoption of the new calendar, New Year was moved to January 1. Those who refused to change, or forgot, were ridiculed by being sent foolish gifts and invitations to non-existent parties. Those who fell for the pranks were taunted with the cry ‘Poisson d’Avril’ (April fish).
As the new calendar became more widely adopted (Britain did not take it up until 1752) the April Fools’ Day custom gradually spread throughout Europe, the US and the rest of the world, so that cries of, “your shoelace is undone”, have become almost universal!
In France today, April first is still called ‘Poisson d’Avril’ (April fish). French children fool their friends by taping paper fish to their friends’ backs.
There are earlier references to similar prank days. The Ancient Roman festival of Hilaria was held in March and the medieval Feast of Fools was held in December. The Persian New Year, where Iranians play jokes on one another, dates back to 536BC. It seems we’ve always loved to make fun of fools.