The first unambiguous British reference to April Fools Day is by diarist John Aubrey’s “Fooles holy day” in 1686, although he might have been referring to Germany. (‘We observe it on ye first of April… And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.)” For more details read hoaxes.org
But there is a possible earlier reference in Chaucer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale which I find quite compelling but most Chaucer scholars don’t. This is the text:
When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two
So, if you have been keeping up with me, you will know that the first lines are referring to March 25th, when God made Adam and Eve, and when the Church started the New Year and the year number moved one on. This was a major Church festival, usually followed by a week of holiness. The Roman New Year, January 1st, ended with a light hearted festival called Saturnalia, and it is suggested that April 1st was, similarly, a day of release after the festival of the official Church ceremony of the New Year.
Chaucer’s last line says ‘Since March began thirty two days have passed.’ A foolish person would not realise this is a reference to April 1st. Hence this suggests a Fools Day already existed. Scholars tend to prefer to think that Chaucer was referring to May 2nd, counting the 32 days not from the beginning of March but from the end of March. I think they look at the second and third lines which read ‘That high March…. was complete’ and so add the 32 days to the end of March. Foolish in my opinion and not reading what Chaucer wrote.
I nearly always forget to honour April Fool’s Day (or April Fish Day as the French call it). But in Britain, we generally find that somewhere in our newspaper or TV station there is a April Fools Joke slipped in. The most remembered is the BBC piece showing film of Italian Farmers picking spaghetti from trees. This year Harry and Megan proved irresistible and the Guardian reported that:
‘The Sun published a piece announcing the launch of Prince Harry and Meghan’s new video game “Megxit: Call of Duke-y” in which the royal couple try to reach California while dodging obstacles, including rival royals and the media, along the way.‘
Generally, in Britain, we play a prank and say ‘April Fool’ with great delight. But we are not allowed to continue beyond midday. The Scots used to call it ‘Hunting the Gowk’ and the main prank was to give someone a letter to deliver, and the person who opened the letter would read:
“Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” and send the fool onto another leg of his or her’s fool’s errand. In Ireland the letter would read ‘send the fool further’.
April comes from Latin and it was Aperilis from aperio from ‘to open’ as this is the month when the Earth opens. In Anglo-Saxon the Venerable Bede mentioned that they called the month Eostremonath. But there really is no other evidence for the Goddess Eostre from where we get our word ‘Easter’. In Gaelic it’s the Cuckoo’s month ‘Ceitein na h-oinsich’. In Welsh it is Ebrill which comes from the Latin.
The image from the medieval Kalendar of Shepherds shows all the beautiful flowers blooming and a female sitting on the grass embroidering, and the star signs of Aries (a Fire sign, brave, independent and impulsive) and Taurus (an Earth Sign: stubborn, down to earth, sensual with good taste).