The 16th Century French Calendar
One theory is that it originated in France. In 1564, the government decided to move the New Year from March 31 to January 1. Whether it was by decree or just something the people thought of, jokes and pranks were concocted on those who refused to adjust or forgot the new date.
The most popular prank was to place paper fish on the rear of these folks. They were known as Poisson d’Avril (April Fish). The history of April Fools Day thus began in France, according to this theory.
Some researchers feel that its origins can be traced to the spring festivals celebrated by various ancient cultures. In ancient civilizations it was marked by playfulness, merry making and jokes. Roles of masters and servants were reversed and the roles of parents and children interchanged. These practices may have originated in Roman times. Eventually it spread to Europe and became the event we know today.
Some of the Roman festivals that may have influenced it could have been the Saturnalia, which was marked by drinking and dancing and the Feast of Fools.
There are some researchers who trace the history of April Fools Day in mythology. One theory is that it originated in Roman myths. Some have suggested that when Persephone (Proserpina) was abducted by Hades, she screamed for her mother Ceres. Ceres didn’t realize that her daughter was in the Underworld and searched for her fruitlessly on Earth. Thus the foolish search became the basis for the event.
Some believe that the practice began in Britain. In the 1630s, the law stated that wherever King John walked, the land would automatically be turned into a public property.
One day the King was headed for the town of Gotham. The citizens were terrified to lose their lands. When the King sent soldiers ahead of him, they reported strange activities. According to this version of the history of April Fools Day, the locals pretended to be insane. The King fell for their antics and decided not to go there anymore. According to legend, their jokes became widely known and copied.
There are some who suggest it began in Germany. In 1530 financial leaders were supposed to meet and discuss monetary issues in Augsburg. It never happened. But some people had wagered it would happen and lost a lot of money. They were laughed at.
Another theory places its origin in the Netherlands. On the first day of April in 1572, the Dutch were able to take back the town of Den Briel away from the Spaniards. According to lore, pranks were played by the Dutch to recall the embarrassment of the Spaniards in losing.
The origin and history of April Fools Day is complex. Studying it can lead one into blind alleys. Regardless of how it started, it seems destined to become even more popular around the world.