April Fool's Day Content
April Fool's Day Content
April Fool Categories
April Fool: Recurring Pranks
April Fool: Regions
April Fool: Perpetrators
April Fool's Day Archive, Contents:
|Before 1900:||Origin of April Fool's Day | 1700-1799 | 1800-1899|
|Early 1900s:||1900 | 1901 | 1915 | 1919 | 1920 | 1923 | 1925|
|1930s & 40s:||1933 | 1934 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1940 | 1949|
|1950s & 60s:||1950 | 1957 | 1959 | 1960 | 1962 | 1965 | 1969|
|1970s:||1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979|
|1980s:||1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989|
|1990s:||1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999|
|2000s:||2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009|
|2010s:||2010 | 2011|
The Washing of the Lions (1698)The April 2, 1698 edition of Dawks’s News-Letter reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This is the first recorded instance of a popular April Fool's Day prank that involved sending people to the Tower of London to see the "washing of the lions." The joke was that there was no lion-washing ceremony. It was a fool's errand. (For more info, see the Hoaxipedia article: Washing The Lions)
This story is occasionally offered as an early example of the custom of April Foolery. However, there is no evidence the story is true.
When Alva Lost His Glasses (1572)On April 1, 1572 Dutch rebels captured the town of Den Briel from Spanish troops led by Lord Alva. This military success eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands from Spain. A Dutch rhyme goes: "Op 1 april / Verloor Alva zijn Bril." This translates to: "On April 1st / Alva lost his 'glasses'". "Bril" means glasses in Dutch, but is also a pun on the name of the town, Den Briel. According to Dutch legend, the tradition of playing pranks on April 1st arose to commemorate the victory in Den Briel and humiliation of the Spanish commander.
French Calendar Reform (1563)In 1563 King Charles IX reformed the French calendar by moving the start of the year from Easter Day to January 1. His edict was passed into law by the French Parliament on Dec. 22, 1564. This aligned legal convention with what had long been the popular custom of celebrating the start of the year on January 1.
Later, in 1582, Pope Gregory issued a papal bull decreeing sweeping calendar reform, which included moving the start of the year to January 1, as well as creating a leap-year system and eliminating ten days from the month of October 1582 in order to correct the drift of the calendar. The Pope had no formal power to make governments accept this reform, but he urged Christian nations to do so. France immediately accepted the reform, since it had already instituted part of the reform (changing the start of the year) in 1564.
This sixteenth-century calendar reform is frequently cited as the origin of the custom of April Foolery. Supposedly the people who failed to realize the start of the year had been changed had pranks played on them on April 1st.
There are a number of problems with this theory. First, the start of the year was changed from Easter day, not April 1st. Second, January 1st had, since Roman times, been the traditional start of the year anyway. Easter Day had been used as the start of the year primarily for legal and administrative purposes (in an attempt by medieval rulers to christianize the calendar).
The calendar-change hypothesis is more plausible if applied to Britain, where March 25 (the date of the christian Feast of Annunciation, aka Lady Day) was New Year's Day, followed by a week of festivities culminating on April 1. However, Britain only changed the start of its calendar year to January 1 in 1752, by which time April Fool's Day was already a well-established tradition.
Eduard de Dene (1539)The Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem in 1539 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what’s being done to him is an April 1st joke. The poem is titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach.“ This is late medieval Dutch meaning (roughly) “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.“ In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.“ (Thanks to Marco Langbroek for the Dutch translation.)
This appears to be the first clear reference to a custom of playing practical jokes on April 1st. Because of this reference, historians believe that April Fool’s Day may have originated in continental northern Europe and then spread to the British Isles.
A Meeting in Augsburg (1530)According to German legend, a meeting of lawmakers was supposed to occur in Augsburg on April 1, 1530 in order to consider various financial matters. Because of time considerations, the meeting did not take place. But numerous speculators, who had bet on the meeting occurring, lost their money and were ridiculed. German folklore has it that this was the origin of the custom of playing pranks on April 1.
Eloy d’Amerval (1508)In 1508 Eloy d'Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer, published a poem titled Le livre de la deablerie. It consisted of "a dialogue between Satan and Lucifer, in which their nefarious plotting of future evil deeds is interrupted periodically by the author, who among other accounts of earthly and divine virtue, records useful information on contemporary musical practice."
The poem would principally be of interest to historians of music, except that it includes the line, "maquereau infâme de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d'avril."
The phrase "poisson d'avril" (April Fish) is the French term for an April Fool, but it is unclear whether d'Amerval's use of the term referred to April 1st specifically. He might have intended the phrase simply to mean a foolish person.
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (1392)In the Nun's Priest's Tale (written around 1392), Chaucer tells the story of the vain cock Chauntecler who falls for the tricks of a fox, and as a consequence is almost eaten. The narrator describes the tale as occurring:
Some scholars have suggested this is a veiled reference to April 1st, since thirty-two days "Syn March bigan" (since March began) would be April 1. It is intriguing to think that Chaucer might have chosen this date purposefully, setting the tale on April 1st because of the tradition of tricks and foolery associated with the day. It would be appropriate for a story of a foolish cock and sly fox.
If it is a reference to April Fool's Day, then it would be the earliest recorded reference to the day. However, Chaucer's choice of words is extremely ambiguous, and most scholars think he meant May 3, since that would be "thritty dayes and two" after March "was complet."
The Madmen of Gotham (circa 1200)British folklore links April Fool's Day to the town of Gotham, the legendary town of fools located in Nottinghamshire. According to legend, it was traditional in the 13th century for any road that the King placed his foot upon to become public property. So when the citizens of Gotham heard that King John (1166-1216) planned to travel through their town, they refused him entry, not wishing to lose their main road. When the King heard this, he sent soldiers to the town. But when the soldiers arrived in Gotham, they found the town full of lunatics engaged in foolish activities such as drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in roofless fences. Their foolery was all an act to make the King believe they were insane. The King fell for the ruse and declared the town too foolish to warrant punishment. Ever since then, according to legend, April Fool's Day has commemmorated their trickery. (The thumbnail shows a 1630 woodcut depicting a citizen of Gotham trying to trap a bird inside a roofless fence.)