The Origins and Celebrations of April Fools’ Day
April 1: A Day of Foolishness
April Fools’ Day, also known as All Fools’ Day, may not be a national holiday, but it is celebrated by many countries every year on April 1. The day is known for providing people with a free pass to prank their partners, friends, families, colleagues and pretty much anyone. All in all, the day is seen as an opportunity to dupe the most gullible into believing the most outlandish things.
The Origin of April Fools’ Day
The day mainly consists of practical jokes, pranks, and hoaxes that often end in the prankster yelling “April Fools!” at their victim. The custom has been observed for hundreds of years, but the origins of April Fools’ Day are debated. Many trace the tradition back to medieval France where 25 March was once New Year’s Day until the Julian calendar was reformed in 1564 and changed to the Gregorian calendar. Before then, New Year festivities culminated on April 1. Those who forgot to change the date and continued to celebrate on April 1 were ridiculed and labeled April Fools. Others suggest the Holi festival in India, which also takes place in March, could be the source of the day.
European Celebrations of April Fools’ Day
Each country has a unique set of pranks and ways of pranking their victims. In France, Belgium, Italy, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland, people stick a paper fish onto as many people as possible without being noticed, and then yell “Poisson d’Avril” / “Pesce d’Aprile” (“April fish!”). On the other hand, April Fools’ Day is only celebrated for half a day in England, and the etiquette states that when the clock strikes noon, you must come clean about your pranks.
In Scotland, Gowkie Day – a two-day event – is celebrated. The Gowk is a symbol of the fool, which led some to believe that April Fool’s was originally associated with being a cuckold. The first day is spent pranking people, while the second – known as Tailie Day – is when people place tails on each other’s backs. In Ireland, tradition dictates sending someone on a “fool’s errand” where the victim is sent to deliver a letter supposedly asking for help. In the Netherlands, citizens tend to catapult or slingshot herring in the direction of their neighbors and yell “haringgek” (“herring fool”). Germans play a prank called an “Aprilscherz,” which involves telling one outrageous but generally harmless story that’s completely made up to fool others. Successfully tricking someone on this day in Greece brings the prankster good luck for the entire year. And in Poland, they have a warning: “Prima Aprilis, uważaj, bo się pomylisz!”, which translates to “April Fools’ Day, be careful – you can be wrong!”
Spain and Portugal both celebrate on different days. The Portuguese don’t celebrate April Fools’ Day on April 1 and prefer the Sunday and Monday prior to Lent. On this day, people throw flour on unsuspecting passers-by. As for the Spanish, the day of pranks is celebrated on December 28th as Holy Innocents’ Day, during which no one can be held accountable for their actions, as the pranksters are considered innocent.
News outlets have participated in the April 1 tradition by going to great lengths to create elaborate hoaxes. They report at least one outrageous fictional claim amidst other articles to fool their audiences. In 1957, the BBC famously reported on a hoax about Swiss farmers harvesting noodles from trees. In 2008, the BBC fooled their audience again with their viral Miracles of Evolution trailer, which appeared to show some special penguins that had regained the ability to fly. Meanwhile, in the US, National Public Radio ran a spot in 1992 with former President Richard Nixon saying that he was running for president again. In 2014, it even promoted a story claiming that “America Doesn’t Read Anymore?” which sparked outrage in the comment section yet was, in fact, a prank.
The Unreliable Netherlands
It is essential to remember that even on a day that celebrates foolishness; one must not fall for everything they read or hear. Just like my earlier mention of the Netherlands: the part where they catapulted herring at each other is entirely false. While hoaxing has since become a widely-accepted feature of many societies, fake news means that April Fools’ Day is now more complicated than before. People should celebrate and have fun, but remember to retain a certain amount of skepticism.