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Tomorrow, April 1st, is what is known as April Fools Day, it has also been refererred to as All Fools Day. It is not an official holiday but does have some followers. The day is meant to be a day where tricks are played on unsuspecting people, usually getting them to be believe what isn’t true. The convention is that if the trick is not played by noon, then the joke is on the trickster.

Wikepedia carries a list of memorable April Fools pranks that have been pulled off. The Book of Days carries even more interesting reports of common forms of pranks used through the centuries.

The origins of this observance appears to be shrouded in speculation and little hard fact. Some have suggested that the day is a commemoration of the dove and raven as they searched for dry land during the Great Flood.

Some suggest an irreverent memoralization of the transferring of Christ from one jurisdiction to another during the final days before his crucifixion. Although, if that was the case, one would think the observance would have shifted with the Easter observances it would come just before.

The most common speculation is that the New Year was observed around April 1st until 1564 when Charles IX of France changed the official day to January 1st. The confusion this created led to those who had accepted the new calendar to refer to the traditionalists as fools and to poke fun at them. In France April Fools Day is known as “poisson d’avril’ — an April fish. Youngsters are known to put pictures of fish on their victims back.

The one drawback to the speculation that the changing of the New Year festival was the origin is that it appears the practice of All Fools Day was underway long before then. Other cultures also had similar festivals which leads to some speculation that the true origins like with the Roman festival of Hilaria. In particular the last day of Hilaria. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the festival as:

in Roman religion, day of merriment and rejoicing in the Cybele-Attis cult and in the Isis-Osiris cult, March 25 and November 3, respectively. It was one of several days in the festival of Cybele that honoured Attis, her son and lover: March 15, his finding by Cybele among the reeds on the bank of the River Gallus; March 22, his self-mutilation; March 24, fasting and mourning at his death; and March 25, the Hilaria, rejoicing at his resurrection. Some of the activities on the Hilaria resembled those associated with April Fools’ Day. November 3, the Hilaria of the Isis-Osiris cult, marked the resurrection of Osiris, husband of Isis.

This would make sense for a point of origin and like many other traditions, they evolved over time. It is interesting to note the Christian parrallels within the Roman festival. I seem to see some of the story of Moses and the resurrection of Christ being parrelled there. Some themes just cross religious lines.

One mistake that is sometimes made about All Fools Day is mistaking it for the Feast of Fools. They are somewhat similar but different festivals. The Feast of Fools took place on January 1st and included what amounted to a parody of the Christmas story, a satire of the excesses of the church. The festival had been pretty much banned in Christendom by the 15th century.

The Feast of Fools is said to have its origins in the Roman feast of Saturnali in which Roman officials switched places with their servants for a day. Their servants were than able to play the part of their masters for the amusement of their masters.