Is April Fool’s a Norse Holiday?

In the modern age, some Heathens use the first day of April as a day specifically honoring Loki. This would seem to originate from the day’s associations with practical jokes, and with Loki’s reputation as a trickster. This holiday, however, has even more ancient origins—and in fact comes from the Norse.

The origin of April Fools was a festival called Prettarsdagr1 which took place during the month Einmánuður, the earlier part of which is roughly equivalent to late March and early April in the Gregorian calendar. We have recently discovered the first written account of the festival by an Irish cleric during the year 969 CE2. Archaeological records, however, have turned up rune stones using the Elder Futhark alphabet which suggest this tradition may have taken place as early as 420 CE.3

Some aspects of the Prettarsdagr festival included communal drinking, blots to Loki4 and flytings. Historians believe the emphasis on flyting originates from the aggression common to sleep-deprived humans, caused by the circadian rhythm readjusting to the presence of increased sunlight5. This is in keeping with the social function of flyting in Old Norse societies, in which they are used as a substitute for physical altercations in order to resolve conflict.

Apparent influence of the Norse Prettarsdagr festival on other cultures is evident in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the Nun’s Priest’s Tale describes a rooster named Chauntecleer who is haunted by dreams of his eventual death by a fox—an obvious symbol of Loki6. We can see here a parallel with “Baldrs Draumar,” wherein Baldr is plagued by dreams of his impending death7. In Snorri’s prose version, Baldr is eventually killed by a sprig of mistletoe brought to the blind Hodr by Loki. In Chaucer’s derivation, the mistletoe is replaced by cabbage in which the fox hides. This tale is the first recorded instance in the English language explicitly stating a connection between “32 March” (April 1st) and deception.8

Partly due to the conversion effort in Scandinavia, these rituals began to be divorced from their pagan origins. As more of the Norse officially became Christian, flytings gave way to humorous tales employing increasingly complex wordplay performed in the courts of kings9. One such example would be the poem on which Snorri’s account of Loki’s eating contest with Logi in the hall of Utgarda-Loki is derived10. We see a continuation of the “deception” motif in Utgarda-Loki’s disguising of fire, thought, age and the Midgard Serpent as seemingly innocuous persons and animals, who outstrip Loki, Thor and Thjalfi at every turn.

Rubber chickens may even be a holdover of the Prettarsdagr festival and the deception in “Baldrs Draumar” through the lens of Chaucer11. The rubber chicken has its origins in the performances of court jesters during the renaissance12—the descendants of increasingly humorous court skalds. Chicken carcasses were widely available and were often used in tandem with inflated pigs’ bladders as mock-weapons during performances. There is one such account of a Swedish clown as late as 1900 who used food during his performances to mock the decadence of the upper classes—including a dead chicken.

As of 1900, however, this connection had surely been forgotten.

Now, of course, April Fool’s Day is a day set aside for harmless practical jokes. In modern-day Sweden, for example, many newspapers will print exactly one fabricated story.

Kind of like this post. Check the first letter of each paragraph.

April Fool’s does not have any Norse origins, or even an analogous festival in the original Heathen practice. There is no Prettarsdagr. We still do not have compelling evidence of a cult of worship for Loki. April Fool’s as a blot day for Loki is an entirely modern invention.

But it’s also Easter, so here’s all the Easter Eggs:

  1. A word I literally made up for this post. It would, however, roughly translate to "day of tricks."
  2. Though the Vikings and the Irish would have already been in contact at this time, we have no such documents. I just wanted a year with 69 in it.
  3. Runestones did exist at this time, but they were mostly gravestones. And it's the weed number.
  4. Again, no proven cult of Loki. Therefore, no historical blots to Loki.
  5. Flyting might have been used as a substitute for physical violence, but it has nothing to do with a made up holiday or the transition into spring. The Norse didn't need an excuse for flyting.
  6. The association of foxes with deception originates separately. Foxes were never associated with Loki until very recently, and this association is entirely unsupported by the lore and historical evidence.
  7. There is no parallel. This is an extremely common plot--Chauntecleer even reflects on how common this plot is within the story.
  8. This one's actually true. Canterbury Tales legitimately is the earliest known English attestation of April 1 being linked to trickery.
  9. Flyting officially existed until the 1500s, but ritualized insult poetry never went away. (Rap battles are, in a sense, much like flyting.) There's no reason this would have happened as a result of the conversion, because flyting was not a distinctly pagan practice.
  10. We don't know nearly enough about this story to make these kinds of claims.
  11. LOL no.
  12. Actually likely to be true...but weird.

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