The Origins of April Fools’ Day

By Bridget Hynes

April Fools’ Day, a holiday now known for pranks and jokes, is celebrated across the nation and throughout the Western world on April 1. However, the lighthearted event, alternatively known as All Fools’ Day, does not have the clearest origins.  

The most popular explanation has the holiday running back to 16th century Europe. When King Charles IX of France replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar in 1564, the start of the New Year shifted from April 1 to January 1. People across France could go for months to years before becoming aware of the change, and some chose not to recognize the new date switch. Those whom still celebrated the New Year on April 1 were regarded as fools and mocked, leading others to invite them to fake April 1 New Year parties and to give out bogus gifts for the holiday. 

Additionally, two ancient festivals celebrated in the spring have similar April Fools’ Day themes and may have also been precursors to the April Fools’ Day holiday. The lively festival of Hilaria was celebrated in ancient Rome to commemorate the resurrection of the god Attis. It involved celebrations and festivities similar to that of April Fools’ Day. Today, the festival of Hilaria is now called Roman Laughing Day. In India, the festival of Holi celebrates the coming of spring during March and includes participants playing pranks and smearing paint on one another. 

Today, April Fools’ Day is a national holiday in the United States. Students across the nation celebrate the day with pranks and jokes on family, friends and teachers. University students have also pulled pranks and participated in the light-hearted holiday festivities.