Holiday--April Fool's

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Western Holiday Summary Sheet

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April Fool's Day, April 1st

(Including information about the evolution of the Western Calendar)

© Dr. Harvey Taylor


1) Welcome to a strange Western holiday! Even the name is strange: April Fools' Day. April is the 4th month of the year on the Western calendar.


2) There are many calendars. A lunar calendar is based on the moon. A solar calendar is based on the sun.


3) One lunar calendar is the Chinese calendar, It has 12 lunar months with 29 or 30 days each. The year in the Chinese calendar has 354 days. This is 11 days shorter than the solar year's 365 days. The Chinese calendar adds an extra month every few years to make this calendar more like the solar year.


4) The early Romans also had a lunar calendar, but it was not very correct. So in 46 B.C., the Emperor Julius Caesar changed the Roman calendar. The new calendar was called the Julian calendar, after Julius Caesar’s name.


5) Its year was 365 days long. It gave 30 days to the months of April, June, September, and November. It gave February only 28 days, and 31 days to the other 7 months. Every 4th year was a leap year, when February had 29 days. On this calendar the 1st month of the year was April. So, April 1st became the Roman New Year's Day.


6) But this Julian calendar was not completely correct. The Julian year was about 11 and ¼ minutes too long. So, in every 128 years, that calendar was one day behind the true time by the sun and moon.


7) After about 1500 years, the first full moon of spring was coming 10 days earlier than the Julian calendar said it should. This made a problem for the Christian celebration of Easter Sunday, which should be just after the 1st full moon in the spring. So the calendar time needed to be made more like the sun and moon time.


8) At that time the leader of the Christian church in Rome was named Pope Gregory. He changed the date of October 5th on all the A.D. 1582 Roman calendars to October 15th in order take away the extra 10 days.


9) But to make this new calendar even more correct, February now has only 28 days in some leap years. This calendar is used around the world, and is named the Gregorian calendar for Pope Gregory.


10) All of this is connected with the April Fools' holiday. When the Gregorian calendar began, the King of France was Charles IV (the 4th). In 1564 he chose January for the 1st month of the year instead of April, and so New Year’s Day in France in 1564 was January 1st instead of April 1st, the old date.


11) But not everyone in France heard about the change. Many French people continued to celebrate the New Year in the spring on April 1st. And those people were all called "April fools."


12) Europe had an old custom to play tricks on people for one special day. Very soon April 1st became the day to play tricks on April fools, and then on everyone else. So now April 1st is the day to play tricks on your friends. The British and Scots call April 1st "All Fools' Day."


13) In modern times April Fools' Day is mostly a day for children to play tricks on their friends. One trick is to secretly put a piece of paper on someone's back that says something like "Kick me" or "Hit me."


14) When my brothers and I were very young, we would go on April 1st up to a house and ring the doorbell. We’d hide until someone opened the door. Then we'd call out, "April Fool!" and run away.


15) For another April Fool’s Day trick some adults will go to their office early and change all the clocks ahead by one hour. Then they will tell everyone who comes in the door that they are late for work. When they begin to apologize for being late, they will hear "April Fool!"


16) An April Fools' Day joke must always be done in kindness, and only to a friend. It should never be dangerous. It should not make the other person feel upset or angry. It should never hurt anyone or damage their clothing or property.


17) So, be careful. Some of these things might happen to you on this strange Western holiday. Will you play any tricks on your friends this next April Fools' Day — on April 1st?

Note to teachers: This holiday summary is © Dr. Harvey Taylor; used here with permission. Dr. Taylor is the author of “Special Days - Special Ways: Western Holidays, Customs, Culture.” This teaching resource contains two textbooks and a video tape with 20 programs, produced at the request of the China TV Teacher’s College, and designed to be the cultural component of a 3-year middle school English teachers’ video course. These resources are available in China. Dr. Taylor's most recent teaching position in China was at Kunming University, and he now provides consulting for other professionals located in Yunnan (you can reach him by writing to me).



Permission granted to reproduce this sheet for classroom use. (Please see our “Website Standards and Use Policy” for materials available at

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