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What is April Fool's Day?

By P. Matz
Updated May 23, 2024
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Although the exact origin of April Fool’s Day is far from certain, most historical evidence indicates that this tradition of prank playing and practical jokes, traces back to the reign of King Charles IX of France. In sixteenth century France, New Year’s Day had been traditionally observed on 25 March, for centuries being associated with the advent of spring. Across the country, parties, feasting, and the exchange of gifts took place for the entire week, ending on 1 April.

However, in 1564, King Charles proclaimed that New Year’s Day would be moved to 1 January, in an effort to bring his country in line with the more accurate Gregorian calendar. Many Frenchmen, though, refused to heed the king’s new reform, and chose to ignore the government’s efforts to modernize the calendar. These conservative traditionalists continued to celebrate the old New Year’s Day of 25 March, as they always had, carrying on with their parties and gift giving for the whole following week as before.

Those who embraced the king’s efforts to modernize the calendar, found the traditionalists refusal to change their ways ridiculous. In an effort to humiliate and embarrass these stubborn citizens, many people would invent fake invitations to non-existent parties and events, fabricating all sorts of tricks to dupe the unwary old timers. Instead of serious, well intentioned, gifts, these pranksters would often send foolish gag gifts as a way to mock the previous practice.

As a nod towards the shifting of the sun out of the astrological sign of Pisces, the targets of these April Fool’s Day jokes were called “April Fish.” So popular did the whole April Fool’s Day tradition become in France, that for centuries, thereafter, any person involved in a significant event on the first day of April, earned the moniker “April Fish.” Notably, even Napoleon I, was not exempt from this type of ridicule. Having married his second wife, Marie-Louise, on 1 April, many Frenchmen secretly referred to him as “April Fish.”

In time, the April Fool’s day tradition crossed the English Channel, and was celebrated by the British also. When Englishmen settled in the New World, they brought their love of April Fool’s Day with them, and to this day, 1 April, is enjoyed around the world as an opportunity to play practical jokes and perpetrate hoaxes on the gullible and unsuspecting. Traditionally, April Fool’s Day pranks are supposed to end by noon, but in many countries, the shenanigans continue till sundown.

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Discussion Comments
By Ivan83 — On Aug 09, 2012

One year my wife duct taped my car shut. She used 6 or 7 rolls to cover the entire thing. There was no way to get into it until all the tape had been taken off.

But here was the kicker. The tape did a lot of damage to my paint job. I ended up having to get the whole car painted. It turned out to be a pretty expensive prank. Luckily we had a little money set aside but still, think your pranks through before you pull them. They can have unexpected consequences.

By profess — On Aug 08, 2012

How did April fools day get started? It is such a weird holiday when you think about it. I like it, don't get me wrong, but there are not any other holidays where you just play meaningless tricks on people.

I guess the way you feel about it depends a lot of the pranks that you pull or have had pulled on you. I know some people that have had some pretty mean stuff done to them on April fools day. And its just another day so you never know if you are going to catch someone at a bad time.

By whiteplane — On Aug 07, 2012
I love April fools day. I have always been kind of a prankster, ever since I was a little kid. Most days people think it is annoying, but April fools day was the one day a year when you could just go for it.

I had a brother who was 2 years older than me and I used to get him every year. Bucket of water over his door, saran wrap over the toilet seat, you name it I probably did it. I am not as consistent these day but I still do it every once in a while. I'm not sure my wife would stick around if I pranked her every year!

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