1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/April-Fools' Day

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APRIL-FOOLS’ DAY, or All-Fools’ Day, the name given to the 1st of April in allusion to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends and neighbours on that day, or sending them on fools’ errands. The origin of this custom has been much disputed, and many ludicrous solutions have been suggested, e.g. that it is a farcical commemoration of Christ being sent from Annas to Caiaphas, from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, and from Herod back again to Pilate, the crucifixion having taken place about the 1st of April. What seems certain is that it is in some way or other a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on old New Year’s day, the 25th of March, ended on the 1st of April. This view gains support from the fact that the exact counterpart of April-fooling is found to have been an immemorial custom in India. The festival of the spring equinox is there termed the feast of Huli, the last day of which is the 31st of March, upon which the chief amusement is the befooling of people by sending them on fruitless errands. It has been plausibly suggested that Europe derived its April-fooling from the French. They were the first nation to adopt the reformed calendar, Charles IX. in 1564 decreeing that the year should begin with the 1st of January. Thus the New Year’s gifts and visits of felicitation which had been the feature of the 1st of April became associated with the first day of January, and those who disliked the change were fair butts for those wits who amused themselves by sending mock presents and paying calls of pretended ceremony on the 1st of April. Though the 1st of April appears to have been anciently observed in Great Britain as a general festival, it was apparently not until the beginning of the 18th century that the making of April-fools was a common custom. In Scotland the custom was known as “hunting the gowk,” i.e. the cuckoo, and April-fools were “April-gowks,” the cuckoo being there, as it is in most lands, a term of contempt. In France the person befooled is known as poisson d’avril. This has been explained from the association of ideas arising from the fact that in April the sun quits the zodiacal sign of the fish. A far more natural explanation would seem to be that the April fish would be a young fish and therefore easily caught.