While many traditions around the world are about doing good, giving back to the community and showing love to one another, April Fools’ Day is an exception. Traditionally celebrated in various parts of Europe, the holiday is now a global phenomenon. And April Fools’ Day tricks aren’t only played on family and friends; many corporations and news outlets also get in on the fun and try their best to pull outlandish, attention-grabbing pranks.
But what is April Fools’ Day? Where does it come from, and what are some of the customs and traditions that make April 1st so different from every other day of the year? We have all the answers for you — and we promise to tell the truth!
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The origins of April Fools’ Day
There are many theories surrounding the origins of April Fools’ Day, but none has officially been confirmed.
Some trace the holiday’s roots all the way back to 1392 when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales. In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” one of the characters tricks the other by referencing the 32nd day of March. As this day can’t possibly exist, some interpreted it as a playful reference to April 1st.
A later reference to the day was made by the French poet Eloy d’Amerval in 1508. But other possible sources exist, too. In the Netherlands, for example, this day commemorates the historic capture of Brielle in 1572, and each year an open-air play is performed. Some scholars believe that the holiday’s European origin may coincide with the celebration of New Year’s Eve during the Middle Ages, which usually started on the 25th of March and ended on April 1st.
So, who’s right? We may never know. The only thing that can be said for certain is that April Fools’ Day has been a long-standing tradition in many European countries for hundreds of years.
The different customs
As April Fools’ Day has been historically celebrated in Europe, it’s not surprising that many Western countries have a variety of traditions around the date. One thing they all have in common? Practical jokes.
In the UK and Ireland, for example, it’s customary to ask a “victim” messenger to deliver a supposedly important, sealed letter to someone. The receiver then reads the letter and asks the messenger to carry it to somebody else. The letter itself simply reads “Send the fool further,” but the unsuspicious courier has no clue as to why they are asked to keep moving the letter along.
In the French-speaking parts of Europe as well as in Italy, April Fools’ Day is known as “April Fish Day” and it is customary to attach a paper fish to someone’s back without them noticing.
In all European countries in addition to Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, a variety of pranks are carried out on April Fools’ Day. It’s common for newspapers to publish hoax stories, and some particularly playful companies may put out obviously fake statements. Other practical jokes include, for example, removing the cream of an Oreo cookie and replacing it with toothpaste, or replacing salt with sugar. Once a person has been pranked, the prankster will usually declare, “April Fools’!”.
April Fools’ Day pranks gone wrong
Although April Fools’ Day is usually harmless, there have been occasions when a joke went too far.
A prime example of this occurred in 1957 when the BBC published a story about the “Swiss spaghetti harvest.” The story supposedly reported on farmers harvesting spaghetti from the (non-existent) spaghetti plant. As a result, the TV broadcaster was flooded with calls inquiring as to where one could purchase a spaghetti plant. As a punishment for its cleverness, the BBC was ultimately forced to issue a statement clarifying that the news segment was a prank.
On the flip side of that coin, genuine public announcements and news items published on April 1st have often been mistaken for hoaxes. For example, when Google announced Gmail on April 1st in 2004, it was generally believed that the technological features would be impossible at the time. Thus, the groundbreaking announcement was widely dismissed as a prank.
A celebration of jokes
One thing that all April Fools’ Day customs have in common? They’re all geared toward making people laugh. And is there really any better tradition than that?
So, celebrate April Fools’ Day however you see fit. Just make sure to watch out for fake news (or even fake foods) when you are traveling to a country that celebrates the day. If you don’t, you might just end up eating the worst Oreo cookie of your life!