April Fools Day: the annual day popular around the world full of practical jokes, pranks, and hoaxes culminating in the jokester shouting “April Fools!” at the victim. Did you know that April Fools Day, also known as All Fool’s Day, started over 400 years ago because of Pope Gregory XIII?

In October of 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar that an overwhelming majority of the world uses today. His calendar moved the start of the new year from March 25th to January 1st, but not everyone was so quick to adopt the changed calendar.

Throughout towns in Europe and especially in France, the new year used to be celebrated for a whole week beginning on March 25th and lasting until April 1st. Those who didn’t get the news or continued to celebrate the new year under the old calendar became the butt of jokes and were labeled fools.

In France, this mockery included putting a paper fish on the fool’s back, a poisson d’avril, or April’s fish, said to symbolize a young, easily ‘hooked’ fish and a gullible person.

“In one of the oldest forms that this trick took, several persons would conspire to send the victim on a fool’s errand from conspirator to another – so the person with the fish on his back would be sent out on a fool’s errand.” 

Why a fish? April 1st is a day traditionally held as the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, and the fish is traditionally associated with Christ (read why here) – hence, the April’s fish. The poisson d’avril gag evolved into what you might recognize today as the “kick me” sign gag pinned on people’s backs.

On April Fools Day, don’t be afraid to pull some (good-natured!) pranks on your friends and family: you’d be in the company of saints! Saint Philip Neri and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati were known to be great jokesters.

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