Who is the more foolish: the person who spends an entire day committed to child’s play or the person who falls victim to joy buzzers and shaving cream pies? Only hearty laughter will tell on April Fool’s Day.
Taking place on the first of every April, April Fool’s Day is a renowned day of tricks and lampoonery that has been a recognized tradition for several centuries in a variety of cultures. However, while jesters keep the holiday thriving, its exact inception has remained a mystery, given the multitude of competing origin stories issued by scholars and humor historians.
Whereas some say the holiday sprung to life from old fables and storybooks, others consider it a day of rejoicing the new year transition, containing as much levity and misunderstanding as people could expect from an April Fool’s Day yarn.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII deemed the Julian Calendar obsolete and ordered the creation of a new one, the Gregorian Calendar we know and use today. The creation of this new calendar called for New Year's Day to be celebrated Jan. 1, but as history tells, many communities outside of France either refused to adapt, or had no idea a new calendar had been implemented, and continued to celebrate New Year's Day in regards to the Julian Calendar, on April 1.
A series of Gregorian inside jokes arose as people began to make fun of the Julian traditionalists, often sending them on "fool's errands"— a day long treasure hunt for items that did not actually exist. As April Fool’s Day spread, so did the buffoonery. Common pranks included attaching a paper fish to an individual’s back and referring to them as “poisson d’avril,” the April fish, which is easily caught and incredibly gullible.
In 18th century Scotland, April Fool’s Day was at one point a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” gowk referring to the scottish term for cuckoo bird — a symbol for dunces. The hunt was superseded by Tailie Day the following morning, which involved pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on people’s derrieres.
In the modern era, the great misfits of April Fool’s Day still dable in isolated pranks, but pulling off an elaborate hoax stranger than fiction is the new name of the game. From BBC specials detailing spaghetti crops in Switzerland to Burger King’s release of the “left-handed whopper,” a flame broiled delicacy rotated 180 degrees to ensure “better grip on the bun,” the tradition remains an important holiday worth recognizing, according to A&M Sociology Professor Jacob Hardy.
“I think any time that we kind of put that collective effervescence around something, it’s really fun and it’s the kind of thing that in general brings people together,” Hardy said.
In his youth, Hardy laughed with his siblings over the ensuing hijinks every April Fool’s Day, which fell on the same day as his mother’s birthday. The jokes may not have been the most clever, Hardy said, but witnessing the joy on his family’s face every April 1 is why he’ll always appreciate April Fool’s Day.
“I know for me it was a bonding experience between me and my siblings, and it brought us lots of joy,” Hardy said. “At the end of the day, maybe we can just keep it as an old ceremonial thing for people who still get into it. I think it’s an excuse to laugh and an excuse to laugh together with another person, because if you have a prank you’re going to need a fool.”