The origins of April Fools’ Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1852, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before this time, New Year’s Day fell on March 25 rather than January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year at the beginning of April were called “fools” by their early adopting contemporaries.
Even before this transition, the New Year had long been associated with the term “fool.” In medieval France, the Feast of Fools fell on January 1. At this popular festival hijinks abounded: Christian ritual was burlesquely imitated, a fake pope was elected, and high and low officials swapped jobs for a day. Feast of Fools was likely modeled after the similarly themed pagan festival Saturnalia.
As this French tradition died out during the 16th century, a new one sprung up in the form of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day. In France, the fooled party is called the poisson d’avril, which literally means “April fish.” The customary prank involves pinning a paper fish, also called the poisson d’avril, to a friend’s back.
Phrases to know for le premier avril:
- I’m joking. = Je plaisante.
- We are having a lot of fun. = Nous nous amusons beaucoup.
- That’s funny. = C’est drôle.
- You got me! = Touché!