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Holiday Insight: April Fool's Day

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General Information

April Fool's Day, also referred to as All Fools' Day, occurs on the first day of April. It is not a holiday in the sense that the day is not used for celebration or observation. April Fool's Day is more of a notable day, recognized around the world, to invoke hoaxes, pranks or practical jokes.

Tradition provides that pranks be performed before noontime and that any prank performed thereafter, results in bad luck for its perpetrator. No one really knows whether the noontime restriction was contrived to restrict the number of pranks or as mere superstition. Some other superstitions surrounding the day include:

  • Anyone not tolerant or receptive of a prank is subject to bad luck.
  • Being fooled by a pretty girl leads to marriage, or at a minimum, friendship with her.
  • An April Fool's Day marriage indicates that the wife will rule the husband.
  • Children born on April Fool's Day will experience good luck in all matters except gambling.

As the name implies, the day is used to embarrass or make fools of the gullible.

History of April Fool's Day

The Julian calendar, developed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, was thought to be the best of all established solar calendars to track seasons of the year. The Roman Republic adapted this solar calendar which is synchronized to the perceived motion of the Sun. Days were typically defined as a period between sunrise, sunset and night or a period between two successive sunsets or sunrises. Each day was assigned a solar date and, with the exception of every fourth year, the solar calendar consisted of 365 such days, divided into twelve months. On the fourth year, an additional day was included. This is known as a leap year. This configuration of the calendar provided for 365.25 solar days.

Over time, the 365.25 solar day calendar would become out of sync with the Earth's cycle of seasons, which is actually 365.2422 days, a value somewhat less than that accounted for in the Julian calendar. This inaccuracy of 11 minutes per year allowed the calendar to exceed the Earth's cycle of seasons by one day every 128 years. In 1582, the western world adopted a modified version of the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar, which is still used today, was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, for which it is named. The new Gregorian calendar skips three of the Julian leap days and provides for 365.2425 days, more closely in line with the earth's cycle of seasons. The Gregorian calendar, however, also exceeds the earth's cycle of seasons by one day in every 3300 years. Over a period of thousands of years, the Gregorian calendar will also fall behind the earth's cycle of seasons.

April Fool's Day is thought to have originated in 16th century France with King Charles IX's adaptation of this new Gregorian calendar. Prior to adapting to this new calendar year, France, like many other places in Europe, began its New Year on March 25th, nine months before Christmas. The New Year initiated a weeklong celebration from March 25th to April 1st. With the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the New Year was redefined as January 1st. Those who refused to accept the newly established calendar and those who forgot about the conversion were the recipients of foolish gifts and were invited to nonexistent New Year's Day parties. The recipients were termed Poisson d'arvil or April fish, which imply attaching a paper fish to someone's back without them knowing it.

The British are thought to have brought the custom to the US where it has been refined to test the gullibility of individuals. With the advent of the Internet, April Fool's Day activities have been extended to include the perpetration of hoaxes and jokes across the World Wide Web.

Date of Celebration

April Fool's Day is generally noted on April 1st, but differences in time zones, around the world, provide for an extended holiday of 49 hours. Dependant upon your location, the holiday could begin up to 12 hours prior to your time zone calculation of April 1st or extend up to 14 hours beyond your time zone calculation.

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