April Fools’ Day: Origin and History
April Fools’ Day (sometimes called All Fools’ Day) is celebrated every year on April 1 by playing practical jokes and spreading hoaxes. The jokes and their victims are called April fools. People playing April Fool jokes expose their prank by shouting April Fool. Some newspapers, magazines, and other published media report fake stories, which are usually explained the next day or below the news section in small letters. Although popular since the 19th century, the day is not a public holiday in any country.
The custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one’s neighbor is recognized everywhere. ]Some precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria.
In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Thus the passage originally meant 32 days after March, i.e. 2 May, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “32 March”, i.e. April 1. In Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.
In 1508, French poet Eloy d’Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “Fish of April”), a possible reference to the holiday. In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on April 1. In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the holiday as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference. On April 1, 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.
In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. Some writers suggest that April Fools’ originated because those who celebrated on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates. The use of January 1 as New Year’s Day was common in France by the mid-16th century, and this date was adopted officially in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.
In the Netherlands, the origin of April Fools’ Day is often attributed to the Dutch victory at Brielle in 1572, where the Spanish Duke Álvarez de Toledo was defeated. “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril.” is a Dutch proverb, which can be translated to: “On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses.” In this case, the glasses (“bril” in Dutch) serve as a metaphor for Brielle. This theory, however, provides no explanation for the international celebration of April Fools’ Day.
Check the most interesting April Fools’ Day Pranks.
Long standing customs
In the UK, an April Fool joke is revealed by shouting “April fool!” at the recipient, who becomes the “April fool”. A study in the 1950s, by folklorists Iona and Peter Opie, found that in the UK, and in countries whose traditions derived from the UK, the joking ceased at midday. A person playing a joke after midday is the “April fool” themselves.
In Scotland, April Fools’ Day was traditionally called ‘Huntigowk Day’, although this name has fallen into disuse. The name is a corruption of ‘Hunt the Gowk’, “gowk” being Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person; alternative terms in Gaelic would be Là na Gocaireachd ‘gowking day’ or Là Ruith na Cuthaige ‘the day of running the cuckoo’. The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message that supposedly requests help of some sort. In fact, the message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient, upon reading it, will explain he can only help if he first contacts another person, and sends the victim to this next person with an identical message, with the same result.
In England a “fool” is known by different names around the country, including a “noodle”, “gob”, “gobby” or “noddy”.
In Ireland it was traditional to entrust the victim with an “important letter” to be given to a named person. That person would then ask the victim to take it to someone else, and so on. The letter when finally opened contained the words “send the fool further”.
In Poland, prima aprilis (“1 April” in Latin) is a day in which many jokes are told; various hoaxes are prepared by people, media (which sometimes cooperate to make the “information” more credible) and even public institutions. Serious activities are usually avoided. This conviction is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31.
Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes celebrate April Fools’ Day (aprilsnar in Danish; aprillipäivä in Finnish). Most news media outlets will publish exactly one false story on April 1; for newspapers this will typically be a first-page article but not the top headline.
In Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada, April 1 tradition is often known as “April fish” (poissons d’avril in French, aprilvis in Dutch or pesce d’aprile in Italian). This includes attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being noticed. Such fish feature prominently on many late 19th- to early 20th-century French April Fools’ Day postcards. Many newspapers also spread a false story on April Fools’ Day, and a subtle reference to a fish is sometimes given as a clue.
In India, there have been numerous references to April Fools’ Day in both cinema and popular literature and people are jovially associated with the day. In Indian cinema, Hindi movie April Fool (1964 film) along with its title song is popular.
In Romania, an April Fool joke is revealed by shouting “Păcăleală de 1 Aprilie!” at the recipient, who becomes the “April fool”, which means “April 1 hoax!”
April Fools’ Day pranks
An April Fools’ Day prank in Boston’s Public Garden warning people not to photograph sculptures.
Main article: List of April Fools’ Day jokes
As well as people playing pranks on one another on April Fools’ Day, elaborate practical jokes have appeared on radio and TV stations, newspapers, web sites, and have been performed by large corporations. In one famous prank from 1957, the BBC broadcast a film in their Panorama current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti, in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC were later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day. On April Fools’ Day 2016, online football news channel Goal.com falsely reported that FC Barcelona winger Lionel Messi agreed to a €500 million deal to sign with Real Madrid for five years. The reporter’s name used in the article was “Lirpa Loof”, which is “April Fool” spelled backwards.
With the advent of the Internet and readily available global news services, April Fools’ pranks can catch and embarrass a wider audience than ever before.
Check these prank videos
To shoo away clouds from raining on Western Europe’s parade, the local team in The Netherlands unveiled Google Wind, a series of “machine learning” windmills that can blow away cloudy skies for another day. In the past, many of Google Cloud Platform’s April Fools’ jokes have been literal cloud-themed.
Comparable prank days
December 28, the equivalent day in Spain and Hispanic America, is also the Christian day of celebration of the “Day of the Holy Innocents”. The Christian celebration is a holiday in its own right, a religious one, but the tradition of pranks is not, though the latter is observed yearly. After somebody plays a joke or a prank on somebody else, the joker usually cries out, in some regions of Hispanic America: Inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar (“You innocent little dove that let yourself be fooled”).
In Mexico, the phrase is ¡Inocente para siempre! which means “Innocent forever!”. In Argentina, the prankster says ¡Que la inocencia te valga!, which roughly translates as a piece of advice on not to be as gullible as the victim of the prank. In Spain, it is common to say just ¡Inocente! (which in Spanish can mean “Innocent!”, but also “Gullible!”).
In Belgium, this day is also known as the “Day of the innocent children” or “Day of the stupid children”. It used to be a day where parents, grandparents and teachers would fool the children in some way. But the celebration of this day has died out in favour of April Fools’ Day.
Nevertheless, on the Spanish island of Minorca, Dia d’enganyar (“Fooling day”) is celebrated on April 1 because Menorca was a British possession during part of the 18th century. In Brazil, the “Dia da mentira” (“Day of the lie”) is also celebrated on April 1.
The practice of April Fool pranks and hoaxes is controversial. The mixed opinions of critics are epitomised in the reception to the 1957 BBC “Spaghetti-tree hoax”, in reference to which, newspapers were split over whether it was “a great joke or a terrible hoax on the public”.
The positive view is that April Fools’ can be good for one’s health because it encourages “jokes, hoaxes…pranks, [and] belly laughs”, and brings all the benefits of laughter including stress relief and reducing strain on the heart. There are many “best of” April Fools’ Day lists that are compiled in order to showcase the best examples of how the day is celebrated. Various April Fools’ campaigns have been praised for their innovation, creativity, writing, and general effort.
The negative view describes April Fools’ hoaxes as “creepy and manipulative”, “rude”, and “a little bit nasty”, as well as based on schadenfreude and deceit. When genuine news is published on April Fools’ Day, it is occasionally misinterpreted as a joke—for example, when Google, known to play elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes, announced the launch of Gmail with 1-gigabyte inboxes in 2004, an era when competing webmail services offered 4 MB or less, many dismissed it as a joke outright. On the other hand, sometimes stories intended as jokes are taken seriously. Either way, there can be adverse effects, such as confusion, misinformation, waste of resources (especially when the hoax concerns people in danger), and even legal or commercial consequences.