The first of April has long been known as All Fool’s Day or April Fool’s Day. Many different countries and cultures recognize April 1st as that one day a year when anyone and everyone can make fun of whoever they want, play jokes on their co-workers, trick their friends and come up with pranks to fool as many people as possible.
One folk explanation for its beginning is the change of the official calendar in the 16th century. In France at this time, there was a decision that moved the New Year from the start of spring around March 25 to January 1. As the story goes, the spread of the news of this edict was not very fast, and so for some time, there were those who continued to celebrate the spring new year instead of the new version. Due to this, they were seen as “April Fools,” for foolishly remaining unaware of the important news, and falling out of step with society. Over time, a tradition grew up around this memory to commemorate it.
However, the idea of April Fool’s Day could be attributed to a much more basic connection with Spring. Rather than specifically because of a shift in the celebration of the new year, the start of the warmer days might simply bring out the more impish tendencies among our forbears. The winter gloom has ended, and it’s time to have some fun.
April is traditionally the first real month of spring, although technically the beginning is commonly about a week earlier in late March. It is known as the month of Spring or of the goddess of Spring in many cultures, and is widely understood as the time of new beginning. While March may be reaching toward Spring, once April arrives, it can be felt in the air. And by the time it is May, the sense of excitement is not as strong, since winter is only a memory by that point.
So this early feeling of anticipation for the end of dark winter and the start of the warm and fertile seasons could be said to provide encouragement for people to be silly, play pranks, and have a little fun at one another’s expense, without a historical starting point. This can be supported by the fact that there seem to be many other parts of the world or times in history when similar festivals existed.
For instance, the Ancient Romans had a festival around the same time, between our March 25 and April 1, called the festival of Hilaria, which we usually translate as “rejoicing” but is also the root of the word “hilarious.” There’s also a Hindi festival known as Holi, during which people throw or smear colored powder or scented water on one another. In Greece and some Eastern Orthodox countries, there is a tradition of throwing flour at one another at a point during Lent.
The modern version of April Fool’s Day makes this celebration or rejoicing into jokes and humorous games, but at the heart of it, the inclination is not so different. The start of April is a time to make people laugh and feel happy, so it is a day set aside for not being serious about much at all. We wouldn’t get much done if every day were April Fool’s, but once a year, it’s possible to let everything be a joke, and enjoy it.