April Fool’s Day or All Fools Day has been celebrated across the western hemisphere for centuries. April 1 is a holiday reserved for pulling pranks on friends and family with news outlets famously joining in on the tomfoolery. But what is the origin of April Fool’s Day?
The Tradition Seemed To Start In 1582
Despite its place in history, the origin of April Fool’s Day is unclear. Some historians suggest that it began with the Ancient Roman renewal festival called “Hilaria” which celebrated the end of the winter equinox and the beginning of Spring. To celebrate, townspeople attended masquerade parties in disguises or in costumes that imitated noblemen.
However, the most widely accepted belief is that the tradition began in 1582. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII announced the end of the Julian calendar and the beginning of the Gregorian calendar, moving the start of the year from March to January 1. But not everyone got the memo. Those who failed to recognize the change were subjected to jokes and hi-jinks. One popular joke involved placing a paper fish on the back of an unsuspecting victim to symbolize an easily caught or gullible person. They were then referred to as the “Poisson d’Avril” or the “April fish”. This practical joke is still carried out across Europe and Canada to this day.
In the 17th Century, the tradition made its way to Britain with the first instance of an April Fool’s joke dating back to 1698. The Dawks’ Newsletter ran an article informing its readers that a select number of people had been invited to the Tower of London to see the “washing of lions”. This was, of course, not true.
But Scotland took things further in the 18th Century when April Fool’s Day became a two-day affair.
400 Years Later, April Fool's Day Is Still A National Event
Celebrations began with “hunting the gowk”, gowk being Scots for a “cuckoo” or “foolish person”. The “gowk” would be asked to deliver a message that requested the help of the recipient, the recipient would open the message to discover the following rhyme: “dinna laugh, dinna smile, hunt the gowk another mile” which means “don’t laugh, don’t smile, send the fool another mile”. The recipient told the messenger they could only help if the letter was passed on to another person and the cycle was repeated until the messenger realized they were being pranked.
The second day was known as Tailie Day and it consisted of practical jokes being carried out on a person’s derrière. It’s alleged that the infamous ‘kick me’ sign was born from this tradition.
Over 400 years later and April Fool’s Day is still a permanent fixture in our society with people both carrying out and falling for hoaxes every year. Why not take some inspiration from some of the world’s most memorable jokes? In 1957, the BBC program “Panorama” tricked its viewers into believing spaghetti was grown on trees and in 1996, Taco Bell announced that they were changing the name of the Liberty Bell to the “Taco Liberty Bell”.