Ever show up for a party on the wrong day?
Hard to imagine, considering invitations are sent by email, responded to by text message, and directions can be accessed by phone. Miscommunication about a date seems, well, a little out-of-date.
But, that’s exactly what happened to French peasants in the 16th century, and today we have April Fool’s Day to commemorate their foolishness. While it’s hard to pinpoint the very first April Fool’s Day, experts look to 1582 as the origin. That’s the year Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar. Since the Pope’s authority did not extend beyond the Papal States and the Catholic Church, it was up to individual countries to adopt this reformed calendar on their own time.
Charles IX of France was one of the first to introduce the Gregorian calendar, in which the New Year was moved to January 1st. Under the Julian calendar, the New Year was celebrated for eight days beginning March 25th, culminating on April 1st. But in the days before wifi, iPhones, Blackberrys, and viral videos changes to the calendar had to be communicated by word-of-mouth – a much slower means of communicating.
For many people – especially peasants in the countryside – word of the date change did not arrive for several years. And even then, some refused to accept the reformed calendar and continued celebrating the New Year on April 1st.
The more sophisticated among French society laughed at these “fools” who continued to show up to the party on the wrong day. And a tradition of ridicule and practical jokes sprung up around the uninformed.
In today’s world of rapidly changing telecommunications, even a fool can get the date right. But rapid-fire technology doesn’t make it easier to get the message right.