APRIL FOOL’S DAY
April Fools’ Day (alternatively April Fool’s Day, sometimes All Fools’ Day) is celebrated on April 1st every year. April 1st is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated in various countries as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other called April fools.
Precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held March 25th, and the Medieval Feast of Fools, held December 28th , still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries.
In the Middle Ages, up until the late 18th century, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25th (Feast of the Annunciation) in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1st. Many writers suggest that April Fools originated because those who celebrated on January 1st made fun of those who celebrated on other dates. The use of January 1st 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 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. However, this practice has lapsed in more recent years.
In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is traditionally called Hunt-the-Gowk Day (“gowk” is Scottish for a cuckoo or a foolish person), although this name has fallen into disuse. The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message requesting 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 person with an identical message, with the same result.
In Iran, jokes are played on the 13th day of the Persian New Year, which falls on either April 1st or 2nd. This day, celebrated as far back as 536 BC, is called Sizdah Bedar and is the oldest prank-tradition in the world still alive today; this fact has led many to believe that April Fools’ Day has its origins in this tradition.
The April 1st tradition in France, Romandy and French-speaking Canada includes poisson d’avril (literally “April’s fish”), attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being noticed. This is also widespread in other nations, such as Italy, where the term Pesce d’aprile (literally “April’s fish”) is also used to refer to any jokes done during the day. This custom also exists in certain areas of Belgium, including the province of Antwerp. The Flemish tradition is for children to lock out their parents or teachers, only letting them in if they promise to bring treats the same evening or the next day.
In Poland, prima aprilis (“April 1” in Latin) is a day full of jokes; 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 31st.
In Italy, France and Belgium, children and adults traditionally tack paper fishes on each other’s back as a trick and shout “April fish!” in their local languages (pesce d’aprile!, poisson d’avril! and aprilvis! in Italian, French and Flemish respectively). Such fish feature prominently on many late 19th- to early 20th-century French April Fools’ Day postcards.
In 1957, the BBC pulled a prank, known as the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest prank, where they broadcast a fake film of Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti. The BBC were later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the video as a prank on n the news the next day.
In Denmark, May 1st is known as “Maj-kat”, meaning “May-cat”, and is also a joking day. May 1st is also celebrated in Sweden as an alternative joking day. When someone has been fooled in Sweden, to disclose that it was a joke, the fooler says the rhyme “april april din dumma sill, jag kan lura dig vart jag vill” (“April, April, you stupid herring, I can fool you to wherever I want”) for April 1 jokes, or “maj maj måne, jag kan lura dig till Skåne” (May May moon, I can fool you into Scania) for May 1st jokes.
Both Danes and Swedes also celebrate April Fools’ Day (“aprilsnar” in Danish). Pranks on May 1st, are much less frequent. Most Swedish and Danish news media outlets will publish exactly one false story on April 1st for newspapers this will typically be a first-page article but not the top headline.
December 28th is the equivalent day in Spain and Ibero-America, which 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 Ibero-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 pranked) In Spain, it is common to say just “Inocente!” (which in Spanish can mean “Innocent!”, but also “Gullible!”). Nevertheless, on the Spanish island of Minorca, “Dia d’enganyar” (“Fooling day”) is celebrated on 1 April because Menorca was a British possession during part of the 18th century.