Origin of April Fools’ Day

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Margaret Wood, Journalist

Why is it that every year on April 1st, several countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, officially claim it as a day for jokes and fooling others? No one knows for sure. The truth has been buried, but various theories still circulate around the origins of this event. Thankfully, tricksters have been keeping this fun tradition alive for hundreds of years, so we have some sense as to how the holiday was born. 

The first mention of April Fools’ Day dates back to 1508 in France. A poet named Eloy d’Amerval wrote about putting paper fish on the backs of people and calling the unsuspecting person a “poisson d’avril” (“April fool”) as a prank. In Medieval France, it was common for people to begin celebrating the New Year on March 25th and end on April 1st. The group who celebrated New Year’s Day on January 1st thought it was ridiculous to do this and mocked those who celebrated at the beginning of spring, calling them “April fools.” The tricks increased in 1564 when France officially changed its calendar so that New Year’s Day fell on January 1st. 

However, that is just one theory about the origin of April Fools’ Day. In other countries, there are different stories and traditions. Sticking paper fishes to someone’s back is common in France and Italy. In Greece, people think that pranksters receive good luck after pulling a prank. They also believe that if it rains on this day, the water has healing powers! In England, you’re considered a fool if you pull a prank after noon. Russians celebrate this holiday by planning extra comedy shows and concerts. 

Some companies, businesses, and governments will join in on the fun and pull a prank too! In 1956, the Italian newspaper, La Notte, said that it was illegal to ride horses around the city unless they were equipped with brake lights. In 1996, Taco Bell played a joke when it claimed in various newspapers that it had bought the Liberty Bell and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” An extremely famous prank pulled in 1957 by the BBC involved spaghetti trees. Yes, spaghetti trees! They streamed a news segment about the success of the spaghetti tree in Switzerland and described the mild weather that made it perfect for the trees to grow. The newsreel for this spaghetti prank is linked below.

Spaghetti Prank Link: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo_wkxH9dU