What are the origins of April Fool's Day? Should this day be observed by true Christians?


The origin and history of April Fool’s Day [also spelled as “April Fools’ Day”], also called “All Fools’ Day,” are not entirely clear. Many explanations have been advanced to explain its origin.
Most commentaries and researchers maintain that the modern celebrations of the day developed in 1582, in France. As the story goes, prior to that year, the New Year was celebrated for eight days, beginning on March 25. The celebration culminated on April 1. With the reform of the calendar under Charles IX, the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, and New Year’s Day was moved to January 1. In France, however, many people either refused to accept the new date, or did not learn about it, and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. Other people began to make fun of these traditionalists, sending them on “fools’ errands” or trying to trick them into believing something false.

The French came to call April 1 “Poisson d’Avril,” or “April Fish.” An April fish is a young fish and thus, one which is easily caught. French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered. Traditionally, French pranks must include or at least relate to a fish. The nickname of “Poisson d’Avril” is said to have been acquired by Napoleon I when he married Marie-Louise of Austria on April 1, 1810.

April Fool’s Day was later introduced to the American colonies of both the English and the French.

In Scotland, April Fool’s Day is actually celebrated for two days. It is also known as “April Gowk,” “Gowkie Day” or “Hunt the Gowk.” “Gowk” is Scottish for “cuckoo” — an emblem of simpletons. The second day is also known as “Taily Day.”

Mexico’s counterpart of April Fool’s Day is actually observed on December 28. In Portugal, April Fool’s Day is celebrated on the Sunday and Monday prior to the Lenten Season, with the traditional trick being to throw flour at one’s friends.

In spite of the “modern” origins of the day, many historians agree that the day has clearly ancient roots. We are told that ancient cultures, including those as varied as the Romans and the Hindus, celebrated New Year’s Day on April 1. The Encyclopedia Britannica points out:

“What seems certain is that it is in some way or other a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on old New Year’s Day, the 25th of March, ended on the 1st of April. This view gains support from the fact that the exact counterpart of April-fooling is found to have been an immemorial custom in India. The festival of the spring equinox is there termed the feast of Huli, the last of which is the 31st of March, upon which the chief amusement is the befooling of people by sending them on fruitless errands.”

Other sources tell us that throughout antiquity, numerous festivals included celebrations of foolery and trickery. One source, “April Fool’s Day: Early Roots,” gives the following noteworthy report:

“The Saturnalia, a Roman winter festival observed at the end of December, was the most important of these [celebrations of trickery]. It involved dancing, drinking, and general merrymaking. People exchanged gifts, slaves were allowed to pretend that they ruled their masters, and a mock king, the Saturnalicius princeps (or Lord of Misrule), reigned for the day. By the fourth century AD the Saturnalia had been transformed into January 1 New Year’s Day celebration, and many of its traditions were incorporated into the observance of Christmas… Northern Europeans observed an ancient festival to honor Lud, a Celtic god of humor. And there were also popular Northern European customs that made sport of the hierarchy of the Druids… During the Middle Ages, a number of celebrations developed which served as direct predecessors to April Fool’s Day. The most important of these was the Festus Fatuorum (the Feast of Fools) which evolved out of the Saturnalia. On this day (mostly observed in France) celebrants elected a mock pope and parodied church rituals. The church, of course, did its best to discourage this holiday, but it lingered on until the sixteenth century. Following the suppression of the Feast of Fools merrymakers focused their attention on Mardi Gras and Carnival.”

The same source states this regarding the “modern” origin of “April Fool’s Day”:

“The calendar change hypothesis might provide a reason for why April 1st specifically became the date of the modern holiday. But it is clear that the idea of the springtime festival honoring misrule and mayhem had far more ancient roots. In addition, the process by which the observance of the day spread from France to Protestant countries such as Germany, Scotland, and England is left unexplained by this theory. These nations only adopted the calendar change during the eighteenth century, at a time when the tradition of April Foolery had already been well established throughout Europe. Finally, it is not clear what, if any, primary evidence (i.e. first-hand accounts written during the 16th and 17th centuries) supports the theory. The link between the calendar change and April 1st appears to be based on modern conjecture rather than archival research. Therefore, while the theory remains a possibility, it should not be treated as a fact.”

A German source, “Faz.Net,” points out that neither the Jews nor the Muslims participate in the custom of April Fool’s Day. Tagesschau.de wrote on April 1, 2002, that there are 800 theories regarding the origin of “April Fool’s Day,” and stated that the Catholic Church “has no problem” with its celebration. Dr. Manfred Becker-Huberti explained: “Even though the first April prank has only been recorded in Germany in 1631, the custom seems to be much older. It can be found amongst all Indo-Germanic tribes… One possible origin can be found in the Roman feast of Quirinalia, or of the Indian feast of Huli, during which fools cast out winter and demons. The best explanation is that it derives from a spring festival, like the German “Fastnacht” [“Fastnacht” is part of the German Carnival. The original “Fastnacht” was also celebrated for the purpose of casting out winter and demons]… In honor of [the Greek goddess] Venus, a feast of deception was celebrated in the spring. April 1 was her special day, and that is the reason why she was also called ‘Aprilis.’ The name of the Indian goddess of love, ‘Maja,’ has the meaning of ‘deception.'”

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, by James Hastings, points out:

“The origin of the practice is obscure… it was widely prevalent at the close of the 16th century. It seems difficult, therefore, to accept the theory that it was due to the transference of New Year’s Day from the First of April to the First of January… The similarity of the fooling in India and the Celtic lands of Western Europe, taken together with affinities in religion and folklore… points to a common origin in very early times… The First of April was kept in ancient Rome as the Feast of Venus and Fortuna Virilis… It is to some Celtic form of this worship of Venus on the First of April that the origin of All Fools’ Day must be traced… All Fools’ Day may therefore be the relic of a Spring Festival of Llew [a Sun-god of Celtic mythology].”

Even though the roots of April Fool’s Day may not be known precisely, the evidence strongly indicates that it is of pagan origin and that it was even celebrated as part of pagan worship services. We are told, however, in Jeremiah 10:2-3, that we are not to learn the ways of the Gentiles, as they are useless and in vain. In addition, God condemns foolish jesting in Ephesians 5:4, where we read, in the Authorized Version, that neither “foolish talking, nor jesting” should be named among us.

We are admonished in God’s Word not to behave like “fools.” Proverbs 10:23 reads, in the AV: “It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom.”

An additional warning against participating in April Fool’s Day celebrations and activities can be found in Proverbs 26:18-19:

“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, Is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, ‘I was only joking!'”

Considering all the evidence of the origin of April Fool’s Day, as it has become available to us, as well as the very nature of the celebrations and activities accompanying that Day, we must conclude that true Christians should refrain from participating in it.

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