April Fools Day is known as a day for practical jokes and pranksters. The holiday dates back several centuries to the Middle Ages.
For centuries, there has been a holiday or festival associated with the coming of spring and playing jokes or pranks on friends and family members. Today the holiday, known as April Fools Day, dates back several centuries and has roots in Ancient Rome and Celtic culture and Renaissance Europe.
Mythological Roots of April Fools Day
According to a Fox News report, some of the roots of April Fools Day can be traced back to ancient Roman mythology, where Pluto, the god of the dead, abducts Proserpina, the goddess of spring, and takes her back to the underworld with him.
Ceres, Proserpina’s mother and goddess of the harvest, notices her missing daughter and goes searching for her. However, as Ceres continued to search for her lost daughter, she hears nothing but her daughter’s calls in the wind and cannot find her.
“Wild goose chases” such as Ceres’s search for her daughter, have been a popular April Fools Day joke throughout history as pranksters send unsuspecting bystanders on races to find something that may or may not be of value.
Ancient Roman and Celtic Roots of April Fools Day
Both the ancient Romans and the Celtic people celebrated a mischief-making festival around the vernal equinox, which occurs in late March. This is probably due to the new year, as celebrated on the Gregorian calendar until the mid 1500s, was also celebrated around this time along with feast days for various gods and goddesses.
European Roots of April Fools Day
In modern Europe, April Fools Day, or “All Fools Day” as it was called then, has been traced back to the mid to late 1500s, when the church changed from using the Gregorian calendar to the Julian calendar.
In the Gregorian calendar, the new year was celebrated around April 1, but when the switch of calendars was made, the new Julian calendar had the new year as being celebrated on January 1. Some were unaware of the change or unhappy with the switch, and other citizens who celebrated the new year would play jokes and poke fun at those who willingly or unwillingly stuck with the old tradition.
April Fools Day Jokes Throughout the Ages
The “wild goose chase” or “fools pursuit” joke dates back to the ancient myth of Pluto and Proserpina and still continues to be a classic April Fools Day joke.
After the changing of the calendars, people in France would stick fish on the backs of prtank victims. Those who were the object of the jokes were often called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish.
The “kick me” sign originated in Scotland, where victims of April Fools Day jokes were called April “Gowks,” which is another name for a cuckoo bird.
Today, technology plays a role in popular, large-scale jokes. Sometimes radio and television stations and websites will play jokes on their audience to see who can participate, or will make jokes into contests with a prize to console those at the receiving end of a prank.
April Fools Day, originally called All Fools Day, began as a chase among the gods and goddesses of ancient Rome and has become a popular holiday for mischief makers. Today, various resources have allowed for elaborate and creative pranks and jokes that remain on people’s minds for years.