By A.J.W. Ewers
As is the case with many other issues, if you do not understand April Fools’ Day or why there is an entire day set aside to play foolish pranks on one another – blame the French.
The story goes like this: In 1564, the French government reformed its calendar and decided to change New Years Day from being celebrated on Apr 1, as it in the old Julian calendar, to Jan 1. It took time for many of those who not in urban areas to catch onto the change in tradition. Some individuals chose to simply reject the change and continue to celebrate New Years Day on Apr. 1. To make fun of the ‘fools’ that rejected the change, pranksters would stick paper fishes to the peoples’ backs. To this day, April Fools’ Day is known as ‘Pois- son d’Avril,’ or rather ‘April Fish’ in French, according to the Museum of Hoaxes.
While the French claim to be April Fools’ Day originators, there is no shortage of theories saying where the comedic day came from. Apr. 1 might just be a day that some people let come and go without a second thought, but the day was celebrated with much more hoopla in ages past.
Professor emeritus of American humor (yes, that really is a field of study) at Boston University, Joseph Boskin gave his own view on how the holiday began to an Associated Press reporter in 1983. Boskin said that the tradition began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. during the reign of Constantine I, according to National Geographic. Supposedly, several jesters from Constantine’s court came to him and asked if he would allow them to rule the Roman Empire for a day. Constantine agreed and the first jester king to be installed was King Kugel. King Kugel ruled that Apr. 1, the day he came to power, would forever be a day of absurdity.
Yet, what is the most accepted story about the origins of April Fools’ Day? Sure, there is a lot of guessing about the day’s origin, but April Fools’ Day is actually a completely American tradition, only picked up by Europeans several decades after Americans invented it.
Many people know the story of the first pilgrims and the Native Americans coming together for the first Thanksgiving. April Fools’ Day is like that – just a bit more interesting.
It all began in the settlements of the Massachusetts Bay Colonies. The local Mohegan tribe was a spirited tribe, often looking for ways to bring joy to their work.
Every year on Apr. 1, the tribesmen would go out and trick the colonists. They would try to convince the colonists that their towns were haunted. Much like today’s TPing of trees, the tribesmen would run around the towns at night and hang ghost-like images to scare the colonists. They would run around beating drums and screaming like ghouls trying to frighten the colonists.
Eventually, the colonists caught on to what was occurring. Rather than letting the Mohegans know that they knew what they were doing, the colonists decided to return the favor. One known way that they got the Mohegans back was by dyeing the river that the tribe used for food and water red with the rotting berries from the year’s harvest. This terrified the Mohegans because they thought that the gods were cursing them by turning the river to blood.
This back-and-forth pranking went on between the colonists and Native Americans every year until the last of the Mohegans died. This is the most widely accepted origin for the day that we now know as April Fools’ Day.
Regardless of how we celebrate April Fools’ Day today, the origins of the holiday make it interesting enough to call for a lovely prank or two. What is the most interesting fact about the history? All of these stories are made up. Boskin was lying. There was no jester takeover of the Roman throne. There wasn’t even a jester known as King Kugel. Kugel is an Eastern European dish, according to National Geographic. While the Mohegan tribe did exist, they didn’t prank the colonists. While the French did put paper fish on the backs of people who refused to accept the change in New Year’s Day, a day of pranking was occurring long before that.
No one actually knows exactly when the day of pranking began, but does it really matter? We have a day on which we can ruthlessly prank one another for the heck of it. Rather than trying to figure the origins of the day, go prank your roommate. It’s the one day of the year they can’t be mad at you for it.