April Fools' Day Facts: Behind the Laughs

Graeme Stemp-Morlock
for National Geographic News
March 28, 2008

For the eager prankster, nothing beats April Fools' Day, a light-hearted tradition that's several hundred years old.

"A lot of people think [April Fools' Day] is just obnoxious, and just wish it would stop," said Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, California.

"But people who love pranks really love the day and refuse to give up the tradition. They're the ones who keep it alive."

Boese notes, however, that the number of pranks in the home and at the office has decreased in recent years in the United States, and has been replaced by large institutionalized media hoaxes, he said.

(Related: "April Fools' Special: History's Hoaxes" [April 1, 2003].)

Happy New... Spring?

The origins of April Fools' Day are shrouded in mystery, experts say.

The most popular theory is that France changed its calendar in the 1500s so that the New Year would begin in January to match the Roman calendar instead of the start of spring in late March or early April.

However word of the change traveled slowly, and many people in rural areas continued to celebrate the New Year in the spring. These country dwellers became known as "April fools."

Boese, who has studied the holiday's origin, disagrees with that interpretation.

"[The French] theory is completely wrong, because the day that the French celebrated the beginning of the year legally was Easter day, so it never really was associated with April first," he said.

"Traditionally it was only a legal start to the year—people in France did actually celebrate [the New Year] on January first for as long as anybody could remember."

Continued on Next Page >>




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