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The first of April, some do say,
Is set apart for All Fools' Day.
But why the people call it so,
Nor I, nor they themselves do know.
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.
-- Poor Robin's Almanac (1790)

 

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April Fools' Day, or All Fools' Day, is the first day of April
and is the traditional day for playing pranks on unsuspecting
people in many countries.  A favorite joke is to send
someone on a fool's errand, a search for something
that doesn't exist.

No one knows for sure where the custom began. The
origin may be related to arrival of spring in late March,
when nature is said to "fool" humanity with changes
in the weather.  Another explanation has to do with the
change to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which
moved New Year's Day to January 1.  Those who were
unaware of the change or too conservative to break
tradition celebrated on April 1, the last day of the old
eight-day New Year's festival.  Favorite gags include
sending someone on impossible errand and running
harmless fibs in the media.  When the person grows
confused or realizes he is being tricked, the joker calls
out "April Fool!".  In France, people stick cutout paper
fish on another's back or send them anonymously in the mail.

But some historians believe the tradition  may have started
in France. There, the old New Year's festival was observed
from March 25 to April 1 and ended with an exchange of gifts.
In the mid-1560's, King Charles IX changed the New Year to
January 1. People who still celebrated the New Year in
April were called April fish and sent mock presents.

April Fools' Day may be related to the ancient Roman spring
festival Hilaria, which celebrates the resurrection of the god Attis.

 

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"The first of April is the day we remember what we are the
other 364 days of the year. "  - American humorist Mark Twain

 

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On the first of April, it may be a good idea to look the other way if you
see a purse lying on the sidewalk. Chances are it will be empty and you
will be called an "April Fool" for picking it up. In France, April first is
called the day of "April Fish". Children may receive a gift of chocolate
fish for their tricks. India celebrates its spring festival of Holi, ending
toward the end of March, in which tricks and pranks also play a part

 

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Updated: January 07, 2006

 

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