The Origins of April Fool’s Day

How the first April Fool’s Day came to be.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Once upon a time, there lived a boy named Frederick the Great. Despite his awe-inspiring title, he was just a normal boy, or at least as normal as the King of Prussia could be.

But Frederick had one dark secret buried deep inside of him: he was in love with Louis XV. France and Prussia had been historical enemies, and their enmity spanned generations. Frederick knew that if his affections were ever to be discovered, his father might just come back from the dead and kill him for disgracing the Hohenzollern dynasty with such shameful desires. Frederick was also already married to a noble whom his father had chosen for him, so he hid his love for Louis and waited for the day when he could reveal his true feelings.

Meanwhile, Louis XV was having fun as the King of France: being a notorious playboy, depleting the royal coffers, abusing the French nobility and peasants alike, and neglecting his wife. However, Louis XV also had a secret. He fantasized about falling in love on Halloween—his favorite holiday, and his wife’s least favorite. Discouraged by the crushing weight of domesticity, he abandoned this pipe dream.

On a fateful day in late March, Louis XV had an epiphany while riding his beloved steed through the Loire Valley. “If I fall into a coma, maybe I can wake up in time for Halloween,” he thought. Then, he purposely fell off his horse and was knocked “unconscious” (he was an excellent actor).

Hearing the news of Louis XV’s purported unconsciousness a week later, Frederick decided that now was the perfect time to express his love for Louis XV. After all, a true love’s kiss can save even the most hopelessly concussed. After overhearing Louis’s secret from his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, he ordered his subjects to conjure a million pumpkins in the spirit of Halloween; thus, a million pumpkins materialized from the long and painful labor of his subjects.

Frederick spent days spreading pumpkins throughout France and Prussia, painstakingly commanding his army to organize them to spell out sweet nothings in French. Frederick was satisfied when they finally finished on the last day of March.

In France, Louis XV’s wife, Marie Leczinska, learned about Frederick’s plan from a royal spy. She was furious. She was devoted to her perfectly imperfect husband and believed that he felt the same. So, she strived to ruin Frederick the Great’s plan. While Frederick was preoccupied with how to confess his feelings, Marie decided to paint some of the pumpkins outside of the Prussian palace alabaster white to prove that it was not yet Halloween, since white pumpkins do not exist.

Having lain in bed for what felt like months, Louis XV woke because of the commotion over the thousands of pumpkins in front of Versailles. He snuck past the front gates and was greeted by the beautiful sight of those majestic, tiger’s-eye orbs glistening in the decisively non-autumnal sunlight. But Louis XV had never been the smartest, so he delightedly exclaimed, “My idea worked! It’s Halloween now!” He then discovered an enormous sign made of pure gold that told him to follow the pumpkins, and so he went with a procession of the finest horses and most luxurious chariots all the way to Prussia.

Unbeknownst to him, Marie secretly followed his procession with a not-so-subtle cortege. She was furious at Louis XV for following the pumpkins but decided to see what he would do in response to Frederick’s absurd romantic gesture.

Frederick the Great was waiting in tepid anticipation for Louis XV. In preparation for Louis’s arrival, Frederick had prepared a hundred-course meal, a gift of an entire Indian orange tiger population, and, of course, all the pumpkins in the kingdom. When his beloved finally entered the palace gates, disgruntled from the long journey, Frederick giddily ran to welcome him.

“LOUIS! So glad you could make it. Welcome, welcome to my humble abode!” he exclaimed, gesturing casually to the massive sparkling palace behind him. Louis XV graciously accepted his cordial invitation.

“Of course. Were you the one who set up all the pumpkins? Rather lovely Halloween decorations you have here,” Louis XV said, not yet seeing the white pumpkins obscured by Frederick’s god-like frame.

“Yes! You see, I have something to confess to you, and if you could come with me—” Frederick began, but was interrupted by Marie—previously hidden behind the string quartet Frederick had requested for the grand occasion—who made a beeline for Louis.

“Oh, mon amour! How long it has been since I have seen the beauty of your waking eyes! Let me take you somewhere other than here; we have so much to catch up on!” Marie said gleefully, grabbing Louis’s arm and periodically glancing over her shoulder at Frederick’s furious face.

“MARIE, STOOOOOOPPPPPPP! YOU’RE EMBARRASSING MEEEE IN FRONT OF FREDERICK!!” Louis whined. “Let Frederick and I enter his beautiful, luscious, and  architecturally-delicate pleasure palace!”

“Louis, NO, you have to see this! Please just follow me,” Marie replied as she tugged on Louis’s left arm. However, just as she did that, Frederick grabbed his right arm in return.

“NO NO NO NO NOOOO! NOOO! THIS IS NOT HOW THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO GO. YOU CAN’T TAKE HIM FROM ME!” Frederick yelled at the top of his lungs, before slipping into a sturm of guttural German swears. Louis, the prize in this game of tug-of-war, was losing his footing. Marie’s and Frederick’s desire for him was going to tear him apart. But before that could happen, they both lost their grip, and all the force catapulted back to Louis, causing him to shoot into the sky like a shell launched from a cannon.

The hang time was like nothing ever seen before. Louis was in the sky for so long that Frederick started to wonder whether or not Newton was correct in his theory regarding gravitational force. But eventually, Louis plummeted to the ground, right on top of the white pumpkins.

Groaning in pain, he looked around to see if he had broken any of the bones in his fragile little body, and as he surveyed the damage, he noticed that the pumpkin he was on top of was… white? No, pumpkins aren’t white… Are they? Louis thought. Following this revelation, he asked, “Frederick… what are these?”

Frederick was sweating profusely. He had also just noticed the white pumpkins but was still ignorant of their potential to further ruin his proposal. He was sweating so much that the humidity surrounding him could be felt from a mile away. He was stuttering as fast as a cheetah; he just could not get the words out.

“I… I... I thought you wouldn’t notice,” Frederick blurted out, unable to think of any other excuse.

“Why did you think that I wouldn’t notice? I’m not colorblind! Tell me Frederick, is it even Halloween? For God’s sake, tell me what month it is,” Louis cried.

“Apri—ctober” Frederick said, blushing nervously.

Seeing Frederick blush made Louis quiver, his heart beating faster at the adorable sight that lay before his well-rested eyes. Suddenly, he pictured his frail fingers entwined in the strands of Frederick’s irresistible powdered wig as they passionately kissed. But his fantasy dissolved when he realized the weight of Frederick's statement, and also the fact that his wife was right next to him.

“Are you kidding me? Are you telling me it isn’t even Halloween? It isn’t even OCTOBER?? I can’t believe you—WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS! WHY WOULD YOU TOY WITH MY HEARTSTRINGS LIKE THIS! WHO EVEN TOLD YOU ABOUT THIS FANTASY? DID YOU DO IT TO MAKE A FOOL OUT OF ME? ANSWER ME!!!” Louis screamed, his bratty French accent thicker than ever.

“A- A- April Fools!...” Frederick said while holding back his sobs.

Louis’s heart sank as fast as the French peasants’ faith in the monarchy. He could not believe the man he had secretly admired for years had used his most vulnerable desires to trick him. The man who had him kicking his feet back and forth in bed at night now had him on his knees, mad at the world for taking advantage of him. Tears streaming down his face, Louis could not take it anymore.

“Come here, my sweet little Louis. He doesn’t deserve your heart. He doesn’t understand you like I do. Come home, mon amour.” Marie said, watching it all and trying to ignore the intoxicating power she felt seeing Louis torn to shreds.

They walked away as Frederick’s steely blue eyes dissected them with a 2,000-yard stare. He could not believe his plan had been foiled, that his world had fallen apart. While he moped about, the news of France’s humiliating defeat through Frederick’s prank quickly spread, leading to the Prussian popularization of April 1 as April Fool’s Day, which eventually spread around the world.

Frederick the Great spent the final years of his life thinking about his romantic failure. Every day when he woke up, Frederick broke down, lonely without the man he loved.

Needless to say, Frederick never fell in love again. He spent his final days in his chamber of isolation, staring regretfully at the ornamentation of the lavish ceilings. As he slipped into eternal sleep atop a mere armchair, he mumbled, “Pardonne-Moi, Louis,” his icy eyes spastically snapping closed for the final time. He may not have fulfilled his life’s purpose, but his desire for love on April 1 left a mark on the world forever.