April Fools Day history spans over 400 years, and across the Atlantic. Of course, the history of April Fools Day started with a prank, although it wasn’t the kind of joke that defines the holiday today. Back in 16’th century France, no one had come up with the idea to use prank calls, or gags on the Internet. In fact, the very first April 1 joke was used by royalty, and involved changes to calendars.
The urban legend is that the tradition began during the reign of King Charles IX in France, at around 1582. Before the Gregorian calendar was introduced, the new year actually began on April 1, instead of the start of January. However, not everyone had heard the news in France, outside of Charles’s kingdom.
So according to lore, the King continued to let ‘fools’ believe that the year still started in April. It took quite some time for them to figure out they were being mocked – whereas it takes us a bit sooner to figure out pranks these days. Nevertheless, the damage had been done by then, which made everyone want to pull off practical jokes every April 1.
If not for the Gregorian calendar, April Fools Day would have a far different history. We would be celebrating the start of a new year today, and making our resolutions four months later. In addition, we would have likely turned baseball’s opening day into a New Years tradition, instead of college football bowl games. But over 400 years later, April 1 has a more comedic reputation on its head.
Although the trend started in France, it took hundreds of years for it to catch on in the rest of the world. By the 18’th century, it became an international event, as Britain, Scotland and America adapted and refined the event. Today, it is an unofficial holiday all over the globe, as people try to pull the best pranks, while also trying to avoid being a fool themselves.
Admittedly, today’s jokesters don’t have the means or success that King Charles IX had back then. He took advantage of living in an era without TV or the Internet, or anything else to make news travel faster. When his people took advantage of the first April Fools, they stayed fooled for a long time. Today, we are more jaded, and know almost instantly that we are being punked – unless Google is pulling off the joke.
Although we can no longer make everyone believe that today is New Years, or pull off anything else that elaborate, pranks have gotten a bit less hurtful since then. The modern April Fools Day history is defined by fun, harmless gags, such as making YouTube clips look like they came from 1911. Despite this holiday having more mean spirited origins, the pranksters of today are hopefully a bit more restrained now.
April Fools Day History
Long Island Press- “April Fools Day 2011: April Fools Day History & Origins”