Although it is not officially acknowledged as a public holiday in any country, many people all around the globe (Europe and North America in particular) celebrate April Fools’ Day every year on April 1st by playing pranks on their friends and family, for better or for worse. But while everybody knows what to do on this holiday, nobody seems to have a clear idea of its origins.
Some customs as well as literary works have, however, been identified as its precursors, such as the Roman festival of Hilaria and the Geoffrey Chaucher’s 1392 book “The Canterbury Tales”. Hilaria was celebrated on March 25 and honored Cybele, an ancient Greek Mother of Gods. Its celebrations included parades, masquerades and jokes to celebrate the first day after the vernal equinox.
The second potential origin story, Chaucher’s “The Canterbury Tales” is an explanation Simon J. Bronner, a professor of American Studies and Folklore at Penn State, finds very controversial. “The controversy is over what Chaucer really wrote and whether there can be a direct link to April Fools’ Day,” he explains. “The line in question is ’32 March,’ [one of the tales, “The Nun’s Priest Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two] which was thought to be a joke because there is no March 32, but there are some medievalists who claim it was a misprint.”
Bronner finds interesting the fact that such celebrations, despite having very cloudy origins, have taken a huge hold on culture.