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April Fools! The Origins of a Unique Holiday

April Fools! The Origins of a Unique Holiday

In recent times, elaborate hoaxes have been concocted to celebrate April Fools’ Day.

In recent times, elaborate hoaxes have been concocted to celebrate April Fools’ Day. Newspapers, TV shows, and websites have all participated in one way or another in an effort to fool their audiences. But why exactly do we celebrate this unique holiday? Historians have found conflicting evidence and are still unsure of the exact origins, but we can piece together some of the history that may have led to April 1st tomfoolery.

Rome and the Cult of Cybele

Many historians think that April Fools’ Day, like many of our other modern holidays, originated from ancient Rome. The Cult of Cybele was a mysterious cult established by the Roman state during the Second Punic War with Carthage in the late 200’s BCE. It was mysterious because many of the rites that were performed in service of the cult were done in secret ceremonies. However, we do know a couple of things. First, worship of Cybele was borrowed from Greece, who themselves borrowed the practice from ancient Phrygia in modern Turkey. Second, adherents of the cult were known to celebrate a festival known as Hilaria at the end of March, where they would dress up in disguises and mock other citizens, and even important government officials. 

Medieval Times: A Calendar Switch

Most historians agree that the modern interpretation of April Fools’ Day probably dates to 1582 CE. This is the year when France officially adopted the Gregorian calendar as mandated by the Church during the Council of Trent in 1563. The old Julian calendar, which had been in place since the time of Julius Caesar, celebrated the new year on April 1st – however, the new calendar made January 1st the “new” new year. Many people didn’t know that New Year’s had shifted, or were slow to pick up on the change. These people became the butt of jokes throughout the kingdom – one common prank was to place a paper fish on people’s backs to let others know how gullible they were!

Britain’s Fools

April Fools’ Day pranks spread throughout Great Britain in the 18th century. In fact, in Scotland, the festivities lasted a full two days. The first day would be known as “hunting the gowk” – people would be sent on phony errands during the day. The “gowk” refers to a cuckoo bird which was a symbol of foolishness in those times. The second day was “tailie day” – as you might suspect, it involved pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on people’s derrieres! Britain’s embrace of April Fools’ Day likely spread to the colonies and the future United States, where we celebrate it today!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 at 1:32 pm . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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