It’s that time of year again, when you have to watch out for tricksters. April Fool’s Day is the perfect excuse for any prankster in your immediate area to practice his or her craft.

So, what’s the real story behind the origins of this, um, ‘holiday?’ Well, it’s no joke — there are many possible explanations.

Blame the French

The history behind this day of jests is somewhat obscure in nature. One of the most popular explanations involves those troublesome pranksters, the French. Calendars in France used to begin in the spring (toward the end of March). In the 16th century, the French decided to change their calendars to match the Gregorian ones, which began the New Year in January. And then the trouble started…

The joke is on you, you dolt!

Thanks to this calendar change, those French with a bit of a devilish streak in them would call upon their neighbors on or around April 1st, and try to convince them that it was, in fact, still the proper day to celebrate the New Year. Uneducated peasants were often the targets of these barbs. The poor people who actually fell into the trap would be mocked and labeled ‘April Fools’ by their so-called friends.

Mother Nature, the ultimate trickster

Another theory as to the origins of this tradition stems from nature, and the seasonal changes. In April, spring comes, which is considered a time of renewal. Sometimes the weather is wonderful, and sometimes it’s awful, continually dumping rain. Mother Nature is thus ‘fooling’ us with her erratic ways.

The Roman sense of humor

The theories about how this day got started go on and on. One of the most interesting involves the Roman Emperor Constantine, and one of his court jesters, who went by the name of Kugel. Kugel joked that he could rule better than the emperor himself. Constantine gave the man one day to preside over the Roman Empire and prove his boast. Of course, the jester, being a jester, officially decreed his day of rule as a day of silliness, to become an annually event.

So, if you want, feel free to blame the Romans the next time someone slips a whoopie cushion beneath you at the weekly office meeting. Or maybe blame the French. Or Mother Nature…

[National Geographic]