April Fools’ Day (sometimes called April Fool’s Day or All Fools’ Day) is celebrated every year on the first day of April as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other.
The jokes and their victims are known as “April fools”.
Hoax stories may be reported by the press (The Guardian usually has a good one) and other media on this day, and then later explained on subsequent days -or not!
Popular since the 19th century, the day is not a national holiday in any country, but it is well known in Canada, Europe, Australia, Brazil and the United States.
The earliest recorded association between 1 April and foolishness can be found in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which was written in 1392, but the custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon a neighbour is well recognised. Some precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi festival of India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools.
In fact, many trace the origins of April Fools’ Day back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII adopted the Gregorian Calendar (yup, it’s named after him), effectively moving New Year’s Day from the end of March to the 1st January. Though the change was widely publicised, some people didn’t get the memo, while others simply didn’t want to transition to the new calendar, so they continued to ring in the New Year at the end of March. Those who didn’t make the change were mocked for their folly and called “April Fools.”
However, this origin story is still a product of speculation, as the origin of April Fools Day still remains a mystery.
How April Fool’s Day is celebrated across the UK
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; and, a person playing a joke after midday then becomes the “April fool” themselves.
In parts of Scotland, April Fools’ Day was traditionally called ‘Huntigowk Day’, although this name has fallen into disuse, and it was traditionally celebrated thus:
The name is a corruption of ‘Hunt the Gowk’, “gowk” being Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person.
Alternate terms in Gaelic would be Là na Gocaireachd ‘gowking day’ or Là Ruith na Cuthaige ‘the day of running the cuckoo’.
The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message that supposedly requests 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 next person with an identical message, with the same result.
In Ireland it was similar, with traditional being to entrust the victim with an “important letter” to be given to a named person. That person would then ask the victim to take it to someone else, and so on. The letter when finally opened contained the words “send the fool further”.
One of the best pranks ever?
As well as people playing pranks on one another on April Fools’ Day, elaborate practical jokes have appeared on radio and TV stations, newspapers, web sites, and have been performed by large corporations.
In one famous prank from 1957, the BBC broadcast a film in their Panorama current affairs series purporting to show Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti, in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest.
The BBC were later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day.
What April Fool’s Day pranks and hoaxes have stood out in your memory?
Did you plan any for today? And if so, how did they go?
If you haven’t planned any pranks yet, and you have kids, you might get some ideas here
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