Praising Pranksterism

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Perhaps you heard this story explaining the origin of April Fools’ Day. Prior to the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, April 1 marked the beginning of the new year. When Pope Gregory XIII blessed the calendar that would inherit his name, he not only replaced the Julian Calendar, but he simultaneously shifted the start of the new year to January 1. Those who continued to believe the new year started on April 1 were made fun of; hence, the start of April Fools’ Day.

Of course, this may not be the true explanation. For one thing, April Fools’ Day was celebrated in England well in advance of their adoption of the Gregorian Calendar. In addition, this conclusion was not deduced from any hard historical evidence, it was arrived at circumstantially. In fact, the earliest actual reference to April Fool’s Day may have been Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales (published in 1392) referenced April Fool’s Day in the Nun’s Priests’ Tale. Eloy d’Amerval wrote a poem in 1508 that contains the French phrase “poisson d’avril,” which is the phrase one shouts after pranking someone on April Fool’s Day. Finally, there is the comical poem written by Flemish writer Eduard De Dene entitled “Refrain on errand-day/which is the first of April.” This poem was published in 1561, a generation before the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar.

A professor of history at Boston University who specialized in popular culture by the name of Joseph Boskin offered a more convincing origin story. In 1983, Boskin was in Los Continue Reading “Praising Pranksterism”