|Photo by Manu Catman|
What is possibly the first reference to April Fool’s Day can be found in the work of Chaucer. Unfortunately, the reference is so ambiguous as to be worthless as historical evidence.
In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale (written around 1392), Chaucer tells the story of the vain roaster Chauntecler who falls for the tricks of a fox, and as a consequence is almost eaten. The narrator describes the tale as occurring:
"When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two"
However, some people, even traced it before in legend, after the "fool's errand", that is the myth of the two goddesses that you can read here.
Ancient cultures including those of the Romans and Hindus, celebrated New Year's Day on or around April 1. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis. It closely follows the vernal equinox. In medieval times, much of Europe celebrated March 25, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year.
|Gregory XIII celebrating the new calendar|
There are at least two difficulties with this explanation. The first is that it doesn't fully account for the spread of April Fools' Day to other European countries. The Gregorian calendar was not adopted by England until 1752, for example, but April Fools' Day was already well established there by that point. The second is that we have no direct historical evidence for this explanation, only conjecture, and that conjecture appears to have been made more recently.
Constantine and Kugel
Another explanation of the origins of April Fools' Day was provided by Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University. He explained that the practice began during the reign of Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine, amused, allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, and the custom became an annual event.