April Fools' Day: How did it start?

April Fools' Day is full of pranks, but where did the impish holiday originate?

ByABC News
April 1, 2018, 11:47 AM

— -- Almost everyone has fallen victim to an April Fools’ Day joke. But why does this tomfoolery take place every year on April 1?

The origin of the holiday is a bit tricky.

Some historians trace back the impish tradition to Geoffrey Chaucer's “The Canterbury Tales” in 1392. One of them, called “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” is a mock-heroic that emphasizes foolishness.

The tale is set on “March 32,” which could be a playful way of referring to April 1, thus marking a day to make someone feel like a nitwit. Other scholars think this may have been a misprint, and Chaucer simply meant the end of March.

A few historians think it dates back to the late 1500s when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar was the prominent calendar used by most of the world until the Gregorian calendar overtook it to become the standard.

April Fools’ Day – or All Fools’ Day as it was more commonly referred to back then – was reportedly a time to mock those who were a little slow to adapt to the calendar change. The start of the year in the newly adopted Gregorian calendar now fell on January 1, but the Julian calendar had it falling on the last week of March and ending on April 1. Those who were ridiculed for not knowing about the change were viewed as fools.

But that’s just one theory behind the gimmicky day. Another is that it falls near the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere, which statistically has unpredictable weather, thus making many people look foolishly unprepared.

Even though the origins of the holiday are a bit elusive, it’s still a lighthearted time to plot a clever ruse against your friends or family.

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