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The origin of April Fools’ Day is debated, but its history covers centuries of April Fools’ pranks, from family high jinks (like pranks to play on your parents or your kids) to office pranks and April Fools’ jokes at everyone’s expense. Your pranking ambitions might be a little more modest, but what gave rise to those ambitions in the first place?
Let’s look into the origin of April Fools’ Day.
April Fools’ Day is an annual holiday that consists of practical jokes, pranks, and hoaxes. Pranksters often unmask their joke by yelling a loud and proud, “April Fools’!” at their victim. This custom has been observed for hundreds of years, but more on that later.
April Fools’ Day always occurs on the first of April. In 1561, a Flemish poet wrote some comical verse about a nobleman who sends his servant back and forth on ludicrous errands in preparation for a wedding feast (the poem’s title roughly translates to “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April”). The first mention of April Fools’ Day in Britain was in 1686, when biographer John Aubrey described April 1st as a “Fooles holy day.”
There’s no question that April Fools’ Day is one of the most widely recognized non-religious holidays in the Western world. Children prank parents, coworkers prank coworkers, and yes, national news outlets still prank their readers.
What is the origin of April Fools’ Day, and how did it become an international phenomenon? The totally legit, not-pulling-your-leg answer to the origin of April Fools’ Day is: Nobody really knows.
One likely predecessor to the origin of April Fools’ day is the Roman tradition of Hilaria, a spring festival held around March 25 in honour of the “first day of the year longer than the night” (to us, the vernal equinox, which typically falls on March 20). Festivities included games, processions, and masquerades, during which disguised commoners could imitate nobility to devious ends.
It’s hard to say whether this ancient revelry’s similarities to modern April Fools’ Day are legit or coincidence, as the first recorded mentions of the holiday didn’t appear until several hundred years later.
While April Fools’ Day is technically considered a national holiday, many countries have adopted the idea of playing pranks on or around April 1st.
For example, France celebrates April Fools’ Day on April first by sticking a paper fish onto the backs of as many people as possible, while yelling “Poisson d’Avril!” This tends to be something children partake in more than adults.
In Greece, successfully tricking someone on this day is said to bring the prankster good luck for the entire year. In some parts of the country, rainfall on April 1st is said to have healing abilities.
The origins of the prank lovers' favourite holiday are murky. In fact, it's possible that the entire concept of April Fools' Day is itself a prank. Or is it?
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