As with most traditions, there are many theories on how April Fool’s Day was first celebrated.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII enforced the use of a new calendar (known as the Gregorian calendar) for Christians in Europe. Prior to this, Europe’s nations and city states operated using the Julian calendar. The Gregorian calendar moved the date of the New Year from April 1 to January 1, among other changes. However, some Europeans continued to celebrate the New Year between March 25 and April 1 and earned the nickname “April fools” and were the subject of pranks and ridicule by those who observed the New Year months ago.
Aside from the United States, many other countries have similar celebrations, not necessarily held on April 1. In India, Holi, a Hindu festival is celebrated by pranks, jokes and throwing dye on one another.
In Iran, on April 1, a celebration called Sizdahbedar is held where everyone plays pranks on one another. This is held on the 13th day of the Persian New Year and celebrants spend the day trying to rid themselves of the number 13. Humorina is celebrated in the Ukraine, also on April 1 where everyone dresses up, play games of chance and jokes are told. Romans celebrate a holiday called “Hilaria” on March 25th. Also called “Roman Laughing Day,” this holiday boasts games, masquerades, and, of course, delicious Italian food.
In France, April Fools’ Day is called “Poisson d’Avril” (April’s fish) in France, literally translating to “April’s fish.” French tricksters try to attach paper fish to the backs of their friends without being noticed. In Scotland, ” April Fools’ Day used to be called Hunt-the-Gawk Day (though the name isn’t as common today). People would trick their friends into delivering “important” letters with hidden jokes written inside. Today, a variety of friendly pranks are pulled on friends and neighbors.
Annually on March 19, Christians around the world come together to celebrate Mary’s (the mother of Jesus) husband, Joseph. On this day, Joseph is celebrated as a patron of the Universal Church. On May 1, he is also celebrated but as a worker (as he was a carpenter).
In 1129, the first church was dedicated to Joseph. As he become more revered, in 1621, a feast of obligation was dedicated to him. In 1870, he was declared patron of the Catholic Church. Joseph died in the arms of Mary and Jesus, so he is considered the patron saint of “happy death” (dying peacefully in the presence of loved ones). He is also the patron saint of doubt and hesitation.
In Portugal and Spain, Father’s Day is also celebrated on March 19. In Italy, St. Joseph’s Day is especially important, especially in Sicily. A large table is prepared without meat and with plenty of fava beans and then is blessed by a priest and after eating, the table is destroyed and children dressed as Joseph, Mary and Jesus go looking for shelter. They knock on two doors and then stay at the home where they knock a third time.
In Switzerland, if your name is Joseph, some skiing facilities allow you to ski for free on St. Joseph’s Day.
The most interesting tradition is found right here in the United States. The Mission of San Juan Capistrano located in San Juan Capistrano, California was founded in 1776. Franciscans built a small city around it. The story goes that one day a shopkeeper was destroying the nests of swallows and a priest stopped him in defense of the birds. On St. Joseph’s Day, the swallows return to the city year after year, after spending the winter in the warm cities of the south. This was considered to be, by many of the faithful, a miracle.