April Fools’ Day or April Fool’s Day (sometimes called All Fools’ Day) is an annual custom on April 1 consisting of practical jokes and hoaxes. Jokesters often expose their actions by shouting “April fools” at the recipient. Mass media can be involved in these pranks, which may be revealed as such the following day. The day is not a public holiday in any country except Odessa in Ukraine, where the first of April is an official city holiday. The custom of setting aside a day for playing harmless pranks upon one’s neighbor has been relatively common in the world historically.
The origin of the customs of the day are shrouded in mystery. Some believe it is likely to be a relic of festivities held to mark the vernal equinox. These celebrations of the first days of spring, began on the 25th of March, and ended on the 2nd of April. Certainly there is some evidence to suggest that April 1st was observed as a general festival in pagan Britain.
More commonly, the customs are associated with the switch to the Gregorian calendar in France during the sixteenth century.
Historically, many parts of the world, celebrated April 1st as New Year’s Day – due to it’s relationship with the start of Spring.
France was one of the first countries to adopt January 1 as their official New Year’s Day, by decree of Charles IX in 1564. This was before the 1582 adoption of the Gregorian calendar.
The gifts and traditions which had been the feature of the 1st of April switched to January 1st. However, many people either refused to accept the change or did not hear about the news several years. Those who still celebrated April 1 were seen as ‘fools’ by the general populace, and fair game to be the butt of pranks and tricks were known as a “poisson d’avril” or “April fish.”
The traditions spread to England and Scotland in the eighteenth century, and was brought to the American colonies by both the English and French.
The tradition of April Fools’ Day, also known as All Fools’ Day is observed in many countries on April 1.
Generally the aim of the day is trying to play a practical joke on a victim who becomes known as an April Fool. The practical jokes can range from simple to elaborate. Whatever the trick, the prankster usually ends it by shouting to his victim, “April Fool!”
April Fool’s day around the world
- Scotland: In Scotland, April Fool’s Day is celebrated over two days – day one is called Taily Day and the second day is devoted to pranks involving the buttocks. The “kick me” sign can be traced back to Taily Day.
- Mexico: Mexico’s equivalent to April Fool’s Day is on December 28th. Originally, the day was a sombre remembrance of the slaughter of the innocent children by King Herod, though over the years, it has evolved into a light-hearted commemoration involving pranks and tricks.
- France: In France, the April fool is known as ‘poisson d’avril’ (April fish). It is not known what exactly the fish refers to, but it may be related to the sun leaving Pieces (the fish) at the start of April. A part of the tradition in France was the placing of dead fish unknowingly on the backs of friends. Today, real fish have been replaced with fish-shaped paper shapes that children try to sneak onto the back of their friends’ shirts. Shops and bakeries also offer special fish-shaped sweets.
- Netherlands: The Dutch have separate reasons for celebrating the 1st of April. In 1572, the Netherlands were under Spanish rule. On April 1, 1572 Dutch rebels seized the town of Den Briel. This marked the start of the general civil rising against the Spanish across the Netherlands. The Duke of Alba was the commander of the Spanish army at the time, and he could not prevent the uprising from gathering momentum. Bril is the Dutch word for glasses, so it was said that “Alba lost his glasses.” The Dutch commemorate this with jokes and humour on the first of April.