April is one of my favorite months. Despite the rain and wind that define Spring in Virginia, April also brings flowers and random sunny days. It also brings tax season, but that’s for another blog post! Some years it’s also the month of Easter, and the 23rd of the month is set aside to celebrate St. George (the saint who slayed the dragon!).

But April also has a long, convoluted history. April is considered the first month of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere the first month of Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also the first month of the year (out of 4) that has 30 days. A long time ago, when most of the world followed the Julian calendar, it was the first month of the year before it became the second month. But now that we follow the Gregorian calendar, it is the fourth month.

One of the things I find so interesting about this month is that the origin of the name “April” has both a Greek and a Roman background.

Some historians believe that April comes from the Latin verb “aperire” which means “to open” and refers to the idea that April is the month when trees bloom and flowers open. April was also associated with the Roman goddess Venus, with her feast day being held on April 1. It’s also possible the word “April” is derived from the Greek word “Aphros” which refers to the Greek goddess Aphrodite–the Greek name for Venus.

In the ancient Roman world (before 700 BC), April was the first month of the year, and then the second month (before January and February were added). It wasn’t until 450 BC when it became the fourth month with 29 days. And then, in 46 BC, Julius Caesar gave April an extra day when he finalized the Julian calendar. Most of the world used the Julian calendar until the 16th century, when countries began to migrate to the Gregorian calendar (which is the calendar we use today). It was quite a confusing time since some countries adopted the new calendar immediately (which called for the new year to begin on January 1), while other countries waited years. It took decades before most of the world was on the same calendar again.

In the earlier calendars, the new year began with the Spring equinox which happened around April 1. So when countries began to move the new year to January 1, those people who still celebrated the new year on April 1 were called “April fools”. In 1582, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar and the new year as January 1, those who didn’t realize that the dates had changed were called “poisson d’avril” of “April fish”. This phrase means “young fish who are easily caught” which also referred to a gullible person. So, in France, when people learned that someone didn’t know that calendar had changed, they would play pranks on these “poisson d’avril”.

Many historians believe that this is the beginning of April Fool’s Day. But other historians believe that the festival of the April fool began in Ancient Rome with the “Hilaria” festival (Latin for joyful) that began in late March and ended around the second week of march. This festival was run by the cult of Cybele and was a celebration of the Vernal equinox (first day of Spring) when the weather was unpredictable and would “fool” people.

April Fool’s day really picked up in popularity in Britain in the 18th century. Events like “hunting the gowk”, where people were sent on phony errands, was followed by Tailie Day. Tailie Day included pranks played on people’s bottoms–like “kick me” or “kiss me” signs, etc.

In the 20th century, with the rise of newspapers, April Fool’s Day became more popular with the papers reporting crazy stories that some readers would believe until the next day’s paper when the prank was revealed. Of course, with the rise of the internet and social media, pranks are now all the craze. While I’ve never been a fan of pranks and jokes, I do love April’s warmer weather and and the chance to plant flowers. And as I work in the garden, I can’t help but remember that April used to usher in the new year… and sometimes I wish it still did. I hope you all have a wonderful week with lots of sunny days and short rain showers that will eventually bring all the beautiful May flowers.

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