The History of April Fool’s Day

It’s traditional in many countries in the west to play tricks on people on April 1st.

The earliest evidence of this is from France. There, the tradition is called Poisson d’avril or April Fish, since, on that day, the French will often tape a cardboard fish onto someone’s backside or send them on a fool’s errand.

No one is positive when the tradition started. The most common theory is that it began in the late 16th century, with the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar.

The Julian Calendar that had been in use until that time had been developed 1600 years earlier, at the order of Julius Caesar, and it had worked very well for many years. But by the 16th century the seasons had grown out of alignment with the date. A new calendar was developed under the auspices of Pope Gregory XIII and the Catholic countries of Europe were quick to adopt it. (It took much longer for the Protestant countries to make the switch which meant that, for several centuries, two different calendars were in use in Europe. But that’s another story!)

Before switching to the Gregorian calendar, different regions of Europe celebrated the New Year on different days. Under the old Julian Calendar, the Catholic Church and much of France began the New Year on March 25th. The festivities were like a spring festival and they lasted until April 1st.

After the switch to the Gregorian Calendar was made, the New Year was officially decreed to be January 1st.

But many people resisted the change. They were used to doing things the old way and saw no reason to switch. Others simply hadn’t heard about the new calendar. All those people kept celebrating the New Year from March 25th until April 1st.

The legend is that the people who changed over to the Gregorian Calendar would play tricks on the ones who wouldn’t change. In France they called the ones who hadn’t made the change, poissons d’avril or April Fish. Fish were young in April so they were considered naïve, and therefore easier to catch. Or in the case of people, easier to fool, hence poissons d’avril.

This is all very interesting. But who knows, the whole story may just be a trick someone’s playing on us!

Happy April Fool’s Day!


This article was posted on Tuesday, March 28th, 2006 at 7:16 pm and is filed under April Fool's Day, Countries & Cultures, English, France, French, Holidays Around the World, Julius Caesar, Languages, People, Poisson d'avril, United Kingdom, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “The History of April Fool’s Day”

  1. Tracy Says:

    That is very interesting! I wondered where April Fool’s got started. Oh! by-the-way, I’m from the United States.

    Merci beaucoup

  2. Kathy Brennan Says:

    I haven’t checked this out, but I was told the calendar change, although the most widely accepted “theory” of the beginnings of April Fool’s Day, has a glitch – Chaucer mentioned April Fool’s Day in “Canterbury Tales,” written 200 years earlier. Hmm. I haven’t verified it, but thought it was interesting! Thanks for your site – I love it! :)

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