April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, is the name given to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends on that day or sending them on fools’ errands. The origin of this custom has been much disputed; it is in some way a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on the old New Year’s Day celebrations of March 25, ended on April 1.
Another view is that it is a farcical commemoration of Jesus’ trials during Passion Week in Jerusalem when he was sent from Annas‘ House to Caiaphas‘ Palace to Pontius Pilate‘s Praetorium to Herod‘s Hasmonean Palace and back to Pilate again… which culminated in his crucifixion on Good Friday, which may have been April 1.
April Fools in the UK
The observance in the UK of April 1 goes back to ancient times, though it did not appear as a common custom until the early 1700s. In Scotland, the custom was known as “hunting the gowk,” i.e., the cuckoo and April fools were “April gowks.”
April Fools in France
The French would designate a person as poisson d’avril, or April fish, associated with a colorful (but unverifiable) account of calendar reform. The story goes that in 1564 Charles IX of France changed the beginning of the year from the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st — to January 1st. Reputedly, those who refused to make the change would have pranksters surreptitiously affix a paper fish to the laggards’ backs.
April Fools in the U.S.
In the US, individuals and employees would concoct elaborate hoaxes and practical jokes on April Fools’ Day. At the old Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley, for example, the size and complexity of these hoaxes were legendary in the 1980s and ’90s, with local television and radio media showing up to capture the event.
Not surprisingly, due to high-tech pranks, some backup companies have sponsored a recent geek holiday called World Backup Day the day before on March 31, hoping to help people from becoming April Fools.
How do you celebrate April Fools’ Day?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian