One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Origins of April Fools

on April 1, 2013

I received this in an email this morning from a former professor and friend and decided to share:

 

In sixteenth-century France, the start of the new year was observed on April first. It was celebrated in much the same way as it is today with parties and dancing into the late hours of the night. Then in 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world, and the new year fell on January first. There were some people, however, who hadn’t heard or didn’t believe the change in the date, so they continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April first. Others played tricks on them and called them “April fools.” They sent them on a “fool’s errand” or tried to make them believe that something false was true. In France today, April first is called “Poisson d’Avril.” French children fool their friends by taping a paper fish to their friends’ backs. When the “young fool” discovers this trick, the prankster yells “Poisson d’Avril!” (April Fish!). The reference to “fish” may stem from the astrological sign “Pisces.” The month of Pisces (February 19 – March 20) ending at about this same time.

The custom made its way around to other nations as well. Some time later England and Scotland decided to adopt the custom of playing jokes on people. In Scotland the favorite April fool’s joke is to send someone on a cuckoo hunt. The word gowk is derived from the word geck, which means “someone who is easily imposed upon. The prank of sending someone out on a cuckoo hunt became so common that in Scotland April Fools’ Day is know as April Gowk Day. This is considered to be a prank because there is no such thing as a cuckoo.

One other theory of how the day came about was derived from the remnant of the festival of Cerelia. This was an ancient Roman feast which celebrated the story of Proserpina. According to the legend, Proserpina was abducted by Pluto the Roman God while she was gathering lilies in the valley. Proserpina’s mother Ceres was so distressed to hear about the abduction of her daughter that she began to make a futile search for her. Because of the hopelessness of Ceres mission her quest to find her daughter has been known to be called the “fool’s errand.”

In Scotland, April Fool’s Day is actually celebrated for two days. The second day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior region of the body. It is called Taily Day. The origin of the “kick me” sign can be traced to this observance.

 

Happy April Fools

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