OK so it may not be a legal holiday, but it's here April Fools' Day and is celebrated all around the world as a day filled with practical jokes and general silliness. As many of you probably know by now, you may want to be a little more cautious or skeptical on April 1st, since family members, friends, neighbours and pretty much anyone may try to tickle your funny bone with a practical joke or a hoax of some kind - whether amusing or annoying there is often no escape - even TV shows have been known to set things up to fool viewers.
The stories surrounding the origin of April Fool's Day vary quite a lot and so it's hard to be certain about the truth – especially when you consider that people feel they have carte blanche to make things up when it comes to this subject. Still, whether it's true or not, one popular tale dates the tradition to 1564, when France formally changed its calendar to the modern Gregorian version, and thereby moved the celebration of the New Year from the last week of March to the 1st of January. In this version of events, those who continued to celebrate the end of New Year's Week on the 1st of April were derided as fools – or, as they are known in France, poissons d'Avril. The problem with that story is that the adoption of the new calendar was a gradual process that took place over a century, making the ridicule of those who continued to celebrate the old date seem unlikely.
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 was amused and 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.
"In a way," explained Prof. Boskin, "it was a very serious day. In those times fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humour."
This explanation was brought to the public's attention in an Associated Press article printed by many newspapers in 1983. There was only one catch: Boskin made the whole thing up. It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize that they'd been victims of an April Fools' joke themselves.
It's worth noting here that many different cultures have their own versions of April Fools, all around April 1st give or take a week or so. Maybe it is something about this particular time of year, the winter becoming the spring, that lends itself to more frivolous behaviour and a general feeling of happiness?
How ever it came to pass, one thing is for sure - it's not going anywhere!
So wherever you go today and whoever you speak to, be sure to give their story just an extra edge of doubt until you have all the facts - remember no-one likes to be a poissons d'Avril.