April 1st is known in many countries as April Fool’s Day. What many people do not realize is that this day has had a long history and was actually mentioned for the first time in 1392 CE, as part of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales was a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet who lived during the Middle Ages. Because of the popularity of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer is widely known as the father of English literature.
April Fool’s Day was first mentioned in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. It was 626 lines long and features talking animals including Chauntecleer the Rooster. Chauntecleer went on to become a popular character in many other tales that were written later. In the story, Chauntecleer was tricked by a fox. The tale is set Syn March bigan thritty days and two. Many people believe this meant the date April 1st (32 days after the month of March began) although many scholars believe that it actually was supposed to mean 32 days after March finished, which would have been May 2nd instead of April 1st.
Regardless of which date Chaucer intended, April 1st became a day for celebration and the playing of harmless pranks. It was first referred to as Poisson D’Avril by a French poet in 1509. The term poisson d’Avril actually meant April fish, and was meant to refer to a person who had been duped by an April fools prank. They were often marked by a tag shaped like a fish which was placed on the backs of people who had been fooled.
In the Middle Ages, the New Year was actually celebrated near the vernal equinox by many cultures. This meant that it would be celebrated any time between the 20th of March and the 5th of April. Then, the Julian calendar was adopted in many areas. According to this calendar, April 1st was set as New Year’s Day. Because of this, April Fool’s Day became a holiday and a day for celebration. This continued until 1582 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced and New Year’s Day was set as January 1st instead of April 1st. It took some time for the word to spread and individuals who celebrated their New Year’s Day on January 1st also referred to the individuals who continued to follow the Julian calendar as “April Fools”.
Documented historical pranks included the sending of servants on foolish errands (documented by Flemish poet Eduard de Dene in 1539), and a prank that drew several individuals to the Tower of London to see the lions washed in 1698.
People still celebrate the day differently in various parts of the world. In some countries, the pranks can only be played on others until noon. If a prank is played on someone after the stroke of twelve, it is the prankster who then becomes the fool. In other countries, the day is celebrated all day long and pranks can continue no matter what time of day it happens to be.