The History of April Fools’ Day

April Fools' Day

….The actual origins of April Fools’ Day are foggy at best. Most accept the idea that April Fools’ Day came out of the switch to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century. Literary buffs, however, will sometimes argue that Chaucer made mention of April Fools’ Day in his famous “Canterbury Tales,” written more than a century earlier. Still another explanation about the origins of April Fools’ Day emerged in 1989 from a history professor named Joseph Boskin, who later revealed this explanation to be an April Fools’ joke in and of itself.

The History of April Fools’ Day

A Tale as Old as Time

The most widely accepted theory behind the origin of the popular day for foolish pranks revolves around the switch from the Julian calendar to Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian calendar in 1582. Previously, the New Year had been a week-long celebration from March 25th to April 1st. This new calendar moved New Year’s Day to January 1st.

The reform of the calendar took place in France under the rule of Charles 1X. Since communication moved slowly, news of the reform to the new calendar took years to travel. Those who did not receive the information for several years and those who refused to accept the new calendar continued celebrating New Year’s Day on April 1st. Over time, these individuals were labeled as backward and teased for their foolish belief that the New Year began on April 1st. This teasing eventually gave way to traditional April Fools’ Day pranks and joviality.

The Problem with Chaucer

There is certainly no problem with this great poet of the 14th century. The problem lies in the misinterpretation of some when it concerns the time setting of his famous tales.

Chaucer sets the time as “set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.” In the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from “The Canterbury Tales.” In it, a mischievous fox tricks the rooster, Chauntecleer, by playing upon the vanity of the foolish fowl. In turn, Chauntacleer fools the fox in the same manner.

Based upon the foolish nature of this tale, some have interpreted the time setting to be April 1st. They argue that April Fools’ Day was celebrated in some parts of the world before the change to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. More likely, Chaucer was referring to the anniversary of the engagement of Anne of Bohemia and King Richard II. The May 2nd anniversary was 32 days after the end of March. At that point in history, many frowned upon the engagement. Anne later won over her doubters, however.

History Repeats Itself

History repeated itself on April 1st, 1986. On that day, Boston University professor Joseph Boskin made a fool out of an Associated Press journalist. Not to mention he fooled a large part of the nation too. When approached by the reporter inquiring about the origins of April Fools’ Day, the history professor spun a tale. Boskin claimed the fools and jesters in Roman Emperor Constantine’s court boasted they could run the empire better than the emperor himself. Amused by these claims, Constantine granted a court jester named Kugel the royal crown for a day on April 1st. During his brief reign, King Kugel made a proclamation stating that day should henceforth be a day of absurdity.

Taking the good professor at his word, the Associated Press printed the story, and the nation was set abuzz. It was later revealed that Boskin knew nothing about the day’s origins. He had just unintentionally pulled off one of the greatest April Fools’ Day pranks.



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