While enjoying dinner with friends this past Sunday, April 1, I began to contemplate April Fools’ Day. “No one better pull a prank on me for April Fool’s day,” said my friend, UNCG freshman, Katherine Williams.
Suddenly everyone in the room looked around them; it seemed as though everyone had the same anxiety. I was struck wondering, how did April Fools’ Day come about, and how did it make such an impact on the nation?
The true origins of this holiday are difficult to identify. Many historians have made a claim that the first sighting of April Fools’ Day was in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales,” in 1387.
It is in the section of “The Canterbury Tales” called “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” that some historians cite as one of the first references to April Fools’ Day. The line in the novel scholars draw upon is, “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two,” which is the date which April Fools’ Day would fall on.
Another theory about the origins of April Fools’ Day stems from the claim that it was first referenced in the poem “Le livre de la diablerie,” by the French poet, Eloy d’Amerval, in 1508. It is the French phrase in the poem, “poisson d’avril,” which is understood to mean “April fool,” that some historians believe was the first reference of the holiday.
According to NBC News, we see that in most European cities during the Middle Ages, the holiday was celebrated between March 25 and April 1. It was meant to signify mockery towards those who celebrated the New Year in March.
Another theory behind April Fools’ Day points to the Flemish poet, Eduard de Dene, who wrote a comical poem in 1561, about a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands every year on April 1.
In the Netherlands, the origin of April Fools’ Day is traced back to Dutch victory over the Spanish Duke, Alvarez de Toledo, in the city of Brielle, in 1572. According to Millethom.com, “The Dutch proverb, ‘Op 1 avril verloor at Brielle’, translates to ‘On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses.’ The glassses – or ‘bril’ in Dutch – serve as a metaphor for Brielle. This date continues to be celebrated every year in the Netherlands with mock battles.”
Recorded celebrations of April Fools’ Day in England are speculated to be about 100 years later than celebrations in the Netherlands, in 1686. According to Sandragulland.com, “In 1686, John Aubrey of England noted ‘Fooles holy day’ [was] observed on April 1st. At the end of the century, a British newspaper noted a popular April Fools’ Day prank: sending people to the Tower of London to see the lions washed.”
Now, April Fools’ Day is a holiday for pranks and is celebrated internationally on April 1.
While some take the task of pranking others rather seriously, others believe the holiday to be a silly day reserved for children. “I actually forgot that April Fools’ Day is even a holiday,” said UNCG sophomore, Cristian, “I feel it pertains only to young children.”
For some, April Fools’ Day pranks are now a method of accumulating likes, shares and subscribes on social media. UNC Chapel Hill student, Carson Reynolds, believes the ante of many pranks is upped too high due to a pressure to be extreme for views on social media.
“People use social media and this holiday to create hype and to create controversy,” said Reynolds.
It is interesting to examine the changes in celebration April Fools’ Day has taken from its speculated origins to a generation of millenials. Only time will tell what meaning and forms of celebration April Fools’ Day will take on in years to come.