April Fool’s Day in many countries is a day for hoaxes and practical jokes. The tradition is said to have started with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, when the New Year was moved from April 1st to January 1st. Those who had difficulty adapting to the change were labeled ‘fools’. Some countries simply celebrate the coming of spring in this manner. Here are just a few of the pranks typical of April Fools’ Day around the world.
“The first day of April, some do say, is set apart for All Fool’s Day.
But why the people call it so ? Nor I, nor they themselves do know.”
Poor Robin’s Almanac (1760)
France – poisson d’avril
April Fools’ Day in France is known as April Fish or poisson d’avril in French. On April 1st, it is common for French schoolchildren to tape a picture of a paper fish on the back of an unsuspecting classmate and wait for it to be discovered. When the person on whom the prank is being played catches on, the person responsible must call out “poisson d’avril!” The origin of this practical joke is unknown, but some believe that France may have been the first to celebrate the holiday in this manner, dating back to the 16th century when the French calendar was changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Many adults also enjoy participating in this type of harmless fun.
April Fool’s Day in Scotland – Hunt-the-Gowk & Tailie Day
The Scots enjoy the practice of pulling pranks so much that they are said to have extended the holiday to include a second day, April 1st. The first day, Hunt-the-Gowk Day (Gowk meaning cuckoo bird) has traditionally been a time to play pranks such as sending people on wild goose chases or false errands. One common prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message. The concealed message instructs the recipient to pass the prank along, while the messenger is told that it is a plea for help. On the second day, Tailie Day, people typically pin tails or signs on the backs of non-suspecting individuals. It is said to have started the popular “Kick Me” sign prank.
April Fool’s Day in Iran – Sizdah Bedar
Sizdah-bedar is celebrated on the 13th and last day of the Persian New Year (Noruz). Sizdah-bedar usually falls on April 1st or 2nd, and is one of the oldest known joke days. In fact pranks have been played on this holiday since 536 BC! To mark the end of Noruz celebrations, on this day it is customary for families to have a big picnic, usually in a park or the countryside. The afternoon is spent outdoors feasting and having fun with friends and family. A display is set up in each home during the 13 days which includes “sabzeh,”or green sprouts, growing in a dish. On Sizdeh Bedar, which literally means “getting rid of the 13th,” the sprouts are thrown into a river or a lake, symbolizing the end of the festivities.
April Fool’s Day in India – Holi Festival
Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors, is celebrated on March 29th. The festival signifies the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Typically people gather around a bonfire the night before. The next morning, Holi celebrations begin when people go out into the streets to throw colors of dry powder and colored water at each other. Some people carry water guns and balloons filled with colored water. Others throw buckets of colored water at each other. Friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, young or old, streets and parks everywhere fill with people covered in colors from head to toe. Those who wish not to participate had better stay indoors!
Sweden – Första April
In Swedish there’s a rhyme that says “April, April you silly fish (specifically a herring), I can fool you anywhere I wish.” This phrase is repeated after each practical joke. In case you fail to trick someone on April 1st, known as Första April, apparently in Sweden you can try again on May 1st! On April 1, 1980 a Swedish newspaper reported daylight savings time had begun without warning so no one knew the correct time. Daylight savings started on April 6th that year, the first time since 1917. In 2001, the Danish media reported tongue in cheek: “Be ready for unexpected guests, a [Swedish] subway car has broken through and surfaced on the square in front of the Copenhagen town hall.”
England – All Fools’ Day
England also celebrates All Fools’ Day with various lighthearted jokes and pranks. Although the fish custom is thought to have originated in France, the English media is said to have started another April Fools’ Day tradition. On April 1, 1957, the BBC reported an early spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland due to a mild Swiss winter. Moreover, they explained that these “spaghetti crops” were growing on trees!! Newscasts were accompanied by actual video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees! The “Swiss Spaghetti Harvest” hoax led to hundreds of people calling BBC to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this day it is one of the most famous April Fools’ Day hoaxes, and the first one ever on television.
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