When you were a child, April Fools Day meant putting the clocks in the house back by an hour or telling little white lies to try and catch your parents out. As an adult, its something you either completely forget about or wait with interest to see what PR spin companies are going to twist for our amusement. Remember David Attenborough’s Grime Documentary in 2017?
So how did April Fools get to be a thing? As with most historical traditions, this one is steeped in mystery and there seems to be no definitive answer.
It could have been referenced in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer which contains a poem that talks about a prank happening ’32 days since March began’ which signifies April 1st. The poem dates back to the 14th Century but may actually just be a coincidence. The first proper reference to the ‘Fooles holy day’ was in 1698 when people were tricked into heading to the Tower of London to watch the Lions be washed.
Another theory is that, in the 16th Century, we changed calendars from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian. Back in the days of the Julian calendar, we celebrated the New Year on 25th March. Because this was a holy week, festivities took place at the start of April. When the Gregorian calendar took over and New Year was switched to January 1st, anyone still celebrating on 1st April was considered a fool.
Spring is a contender for the origin of April Fools too. When nature ‘tricks’ us with its ever-changing weather. This one is a lot more boring than imaging a bunch of friends in the middle ages getting drunk in April and thinking it’s the New Year when they’re already 3-months in!
So how does the world celebrate April Fools Day? We know the Brits like to play silly pranks until midday only, but what’s everyone else up to?
In many European countries (France, Belgium, Switzerland et al), April 1st carries a tradition called ‘April fish’ where we have to attach a paper fish to someone’s back without them noticing. Scotland used to call April Fools ‘Huntigowk Day’ meaning ‘hunt the cuckoo or silly person’. It involved sending someone to deliver a note that requested the recipient keep up the joke and send the messenger on a further fools' errand. A very similar tradition occurred in Ireland.