April Fools’ Day: History and Origin
We all know that April 1st is a day reserved for fun practical jokes and pranks like putting sugar in the salt shaker or installing an air horn beneath a coworker’s desk chair. April Fools’ Day has been celebrated for hundreds of years in one form or another across many countries, and the fun tradition continues to spread and grow to other countries and cultures.
This year, in addition to having fun playing April Fools’ pranks with (or on) your kids and friends, you can impress them with some of these fun April Fools’ Day facts and trivia on the history of this one-of-a-kind holiday.
April Fools’ Day History
The exact origins of April Fools’ Day are contested. Some date its beginnings as far back as the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, the celebration of the spring equinox that paid homage to the goddess Cybele. Many of the activities of Hilaria resemble those still practiced on April Fools’ Day in modern times. Others trace it back to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, a bawdy story about a rooster and fox outwitting each other, is set on March 32nd (or April 1st).
It has also been suggested by some scholars that the origins of April Fools’ Day have roots in the Council of Trent, which among other things mandated that France switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Those slow to hear the news of the change were mocked for continuing to celebrate New Year’s Day between March 25th and April 1st. Some of these “fools” would even have paper fish pinned to their back as a practical joke, a practice still continued by the French on April Fools’ Day known as poisson d’avril (April Fish).
The Dutch attribute the origin of April Fools’ Day to their victory over the Spanish at the port town of Brielle. On April 1st 1572, 600 men of the Dutch Rebellion sacked Brielle and reclaimed it from the Duke Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, who had been sent to govern the Netherlands from Spain.
Today, Dutch students are taught a simple rhyme to remember the battle: Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril (On April 1st, Alva lost his glasses). Now there’s a bit of trivia to add to a list of April Fools’ Day facts for kids!
April Fools’ Day Traditions
Despite disagreements over the exact origin of April Fools’ Day, it remains a widely celebrated day of pranks and practical jokes in many countries around the world. Different traditions have grown out of different countries, and countries that have had contact with European societies (such as India) have adopted their own day as well.
In Scotland and Ireland, a common joke involves sending a messenger with an important letter, under the pretense of asking for help. When the messenger delivers the letter, the recipient opens it to read some variation of “send the fool farther on”. Now a conspirator of the joke, the recipient then sends the messenger onto another person. The prank continues until the messenger finally figures out that they have been duped into delivering a joke letter.
April Fools’ Day is also celebrated in Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark as a time for jokes and hoaxes. It’s known as prima aprillis, aprilsnar, aprillipäivä, and others. Some large scale jokes are even corroborated by the media in these countries in the form of fake news stories and headlines printed on the front page of newspapers.
April Fools’ quotes and sayings are heard wherever the day is celebrated, usually to declare someone’s foolishness out loud when they fall prey to a joke or prank. In the UK and US, pranksters shout “April fool!” at their victim once their joke has been revealed. In France and other French-speaking countries, it is customary to shout “Poisson d’avril!” after pinning a paper fish to someone’s back. Similarly, Romanians shout “Păcăleală de 1 Aprilie!” (April 1st hoax) at their victims at the end of a joke.
Though originally intended as a lighthearted day of jokes and laughter, the day is not always interpreted positively. Some see the shenanigans as childish, rude, and in some cases dangerous when a joke is taken too far. While most April Fools’ Day pranks are innocent, some waste precious resources and time and pose a risk to people’s safety and welfare. Geeker has a chilling title called “April Fools” by Richie Tankersley Cusick about a group of friends whose April Fools’ Day turns into a deadly adventure they’ll never forget. You can read it now at your own risk, but don’t get any ideas for your own April Fools’ Day prank!
For most, April 1st remains a fun, carefree holiday that celebrates the joy and laughter that comes from harmless pranks and funny jokes. With the start of April just around the corner, be on the lookout for any stray whoopee cushions or paper fish that might be coming your way.