Why Is It Called April Fools' Day?

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You know that you're supposed to spend the first of April tricking your friends with reckless abandon, and you know that you're supposed to spend it watching your back as these aforementioned friends seek their revenge. But do you know why this silly holiday even exists, or why it's called April Fools' Day? I mean, the answer might seem obvious — the holiday takes place in April, and it turns even the most careful among us into victims of harmless pranks — but the significance behind the first day of April is actually pretty fascinating. Yes, I know you're super busy right now trying to figure out the perfect April Fools' Day prank to play on your boss, but take a second to figure out exactly why that's acceptable today, and only today. Otherwise, you're just kind of pulling pranks because everyone else is pulling pranks — wouldn't you rather do so with a thorough knowledge and understanding of April Fools' Day origins instead?

While nobody seems to know exactly when April Fools' Day first came into being, many people believe there's at least one place we can point fingers — France. Apparently, not everyone was in on the memo when the country decided to switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Why is this a big deal, you might be asking? Well, for one thing, the change in calendars also changed when people celebrated the beginning of the new year. New Year's Day moved from being on April 1, to Jan. 1 — so those people still operating on the Julian calendar were about four months behind their Gregorian calendar-following counterparts.

I'm not saying everyone who celebrated the New Year in April was a fool — more likely, these poor Twitter-less beings just had no idea that the calendar change had gone into effect — but they may have been considered so by the rest of French society. To add insult to injury, people would point out those who still abided by the Julian calendar by calling them "poisson d’avril," which means April fish. It wasn't so much a term of endearment as it was a way to call someone gullible. Sweet, huh? The name stuck around. Today, in France the first of April is known as Poisson d’Avril, and one of the holiday's traditions is to place a paper fish on someone's back and run away without them knowing it.

According to Vox, one early mention of the term "April Fools" was in 1708 by British Apollo Magazine, which wrote, "Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?" At that point, the tradition of pulling pranks on people on April 1 was already pretty widespread, though no one seems to be entirely sure how April Fools' Day became popularized in the U.K. in the late 17th and early 18th century. But, popularized it was. In fact, the Scots loved April Fools' Day so much they turned it into a two-day celebration. The second day is called Tailie Day, and it is entirely devoted to playing jokes of the "kick me" sign variety.

April Fools' is also sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day — which is fitting, because really nobody is safe when April 1 rolls around. Your best defense? Question everything, and trust no one. You are not an April fish. You will get through this ridiculous day in one piece, and now, if nothing else, you can do so and say you learned something in the process, too.

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