Who Were the First April Fools?

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Yarett

We know that April Fool's Day, a worldwide celebration of pranks and hoaxes, was around before 1539, when the earliest clear reference appears in a Flemish manuscript. Beyond that, we're not really sure. Theories on the origins of the goofy celebration abound--but, then again, they could be hoaxes themselves.

The French?

The most popular theory attributes the day to 16th-century France. When King Charles IX moved New Year's from the end of March to Jan.a1, those who kept celebrating in spring were mocked and called fools. Another theory ties the tradition to the ease with which newly hatched fish could be caught in early April. Fooling people on April 1 became a way of celebrating the abundance of "foolish" fish. The French still call April Fool's pranks Poisson d'Avril, or April Fish.

The Germans?

An important meeting of German lawmakers in Augsburg was scheduled for April 1, 1530, but was canceled. Some citizens had wagered that the meeting would occur; they lost their money and were mocked for their foolishness, setting off the tradition of joking on the first of April.

The British?

British legend traces the celebration to a town called Gotham. …