April Fools

Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

April 1st has long been a day that people around the world have enjoyed playing pranks on one another. It’s also my birthday, so I think my curiosity about where this tradition came from and why it was started comes from years of hearing “Oh, you’re a fool?” when finding out it’s my birthday. At some point, curiosity got the best of me and I started asking questions, reading and researching April Fools’ Day.

It turns out that getting one concrete answer on just about anything is nearly impossible, nonetheless, I think after reading the different theories, I made up my mind that the most believable explanation comes from New Year’s Day. You are probably asking yourself what could New Year’s Day, which is January 1st (of course) possibly have to do with April 1st being called April Fools’ Day? Well even if you’re not asking yourself that question, I’m about to explain it to you.

The Gregorian calendar, the one we follow today and that you probably have hanging on a wall near you, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. He proposed this as a refinement to the Julian calendar as a way to eliminate the changing dates that the equinoxes fell on. This was all because of Easter. The northern Vernal equinox helps set the date for Easter. So, if people would adopt the proposed Gregorian calendar, the holiday would once again be celebrated the same time of year as it had been originally presented by the early church.  As you can imagine, this change was slow to catch on. Initially it’s said that the predominantly catholic countries of Europe were first to adopt.

The theory about how April 1st got its new nickname that I find most believable revolves around this.

In places that followed the old Julian calendar, March 25th was New Year’s Day, but the Gregorian calendar has January 1st as the New Year. Wait! So how does this affect April 1st? Well you see, March 25th fell during Holy Week. The first available day to celebrate the New Year was…April 1st.  So, now we have people celebrating on different days and the Gregorian followers would see Julian followers celebrating New Year’s Day on April 1st and would call them fools. Then the tradition of playing pranks was born. It was almost like a “if they are fool enough to celebrate on the wrong day, let’s see what else we can get them to believe” kind of thing.

Something I find fascinating is how long it took the rest of the world to adopt the Gregorian calendar that we all use. Here are some notable dates of adoption after introduction in 1582:

 1582 - Spain & Portugal (and their territories) 1587 - Hungary
 1752 - Great Britain and its territories 1867 - Alaska (transferred from Russian control to US)
 1918 - Russia 1823 - Greece

There you have it.