What can I say, there’s just something about us humans that love a good laugh [ahem, at somebody elses expense of course]. Merrymakers have been enjoying the celebration of pranks for centuries and there are many theories out there about where the unofficial holiday took birth. April fool-like shenanigans resemble soirees like the Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi celebrations in India and the Medieval Feast of Fools (still celebrated in Spanish speaking countries). But my favorite theory is that our modern day hoopla-holiday came from- wait for it- Canterbury Tales. Yeah, you read that right. In Chaucer’s 1392 classic, the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two”. Best scholarly assumptions are that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, “Syn March was gon”, meaning that the passage originally meant 32 days after April, i.e. 2 May. Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “March 32″, i.e. April 1 and in Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox. Anywho- that might not be the best answer as to where this pesky month-opener came from (Britannica’s stab at it suggests it may have originated in France when the Gregorian calendar, which moved New Year’s Day from March 25 to January 1, was adopted in 1582. Those who continued to celebrate the end of New Year Week on April 1 were referred to as fools).
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