April Fools Day: The many and hilarious origins of the pranking festivity

April Fools is celebrated in many countries around the world, but what are its origins?

It’s April Fools y’all! You know what that means, not believing anything you see on social media, being extra careful with what you eat, and trying to pull up an original prank that no one will see coming. This pranking tradition dates back centuries and has been registered in many countries throughout the world making it a non-official international festivity that only those with a good sense of humor love.

However, being such a, let’s say, universal practice, it’s hard to track back the real origins of this tradition. Celebrated every April 1, there are different hilarious stories and theories about how this mischievous practice started and how it spread throughout many countries.


So, before exchanging that sugar with salt, or shaking that soda can before your dad opens it, why not learn a little bit about the possible origins of this strange yet funny tradition?

You might want to see this: 5 Great Pranks In History That’ll Make You Laugh Out Loud This April Fool’s Day


Calendar switch

The most common theory dates back to 1582 when France decided to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. This had been called for at the Council of Trent of 1563, but it took France (the first country to do so) almost two decades to implement it. The Julian Calendar considered New Year to happen with the beginning of the spring equinox which happened around April 1. With the Gregorian Calendar, the New Year started on January 1.

Legend has it, not everybody learned about this crucial change in the measuring of time, so those late to learn about it would keep celebrating New Year on April 1. Those aware of the calendar switch would make fun of them and prank them calling them “April fools.” It would go further to people attaching paper fish on the backs of the ‘fools’ to ridicule them. However, as round as this theory sounds, there’s evidence showing that the pranking tradition was a thing before 1582. One of them is a French poem by Eloy d’Amerval, who mentions a prank called ‘poisson d’avril’ (April fish).


Another register appears in 1561 in Flanders in a poem written by Eduard de Dene. This one describes the story of a nobleman who would send his servants on random and foolish errands on April 1, to mock them. Also, April Fools was already a tradition in the UK before the Gregorian calendar was established.

Ancient Roman origins

Another theory links the origins of April Fools to the Ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, which translates from Latin to ‘joyful.’ This festival was celebrated by the end of March, around the 25, in honor of the cult of Cybele. March 25 was considered the first day of the year that’s longer than the night, which is what we know as the vernal equinox, which in our calendars happens on March 20. The festival lasted for days and people would wear costumes and mock their neighbors and even magistrates. The Hilaria Festival also included games, masquerades, and commoners dressing up as nobles to mock and ridicule them.


Mother Nature the biggest prankster

This one, I must accept, is not as funny as the others. According to this version, it was Mother Nature the very first to mock humanity. With the arrival of the vernal equinox, the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, weather changes dramatically leaving aside the terrible winter thus mocking everybody with the unpredictable change and making us look dumb for not being prepared for that. Don’t come after me, I warned you this wasn’t a funny theory, and to be fair this is also quite unlikely.

Popularizing a foolish festivity

Now, we might not know for certain which theory is the original one, what we do know is that the tradition of April Fools as we know it today was popularized by the late 17th century. One of the first references that use the name was John Aubrey’s text of 1686 where he calls the festivity “Fooles holy day.” It proves it was such an established celebration that in 1698, the people of London were pranked and summoned to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed.” Many attended to see nothing.


It wouldn’t be until the next century when basically all of Britain was celebrating April Fools. In Scotland, for instance, the celebration became a two-day festivity that was also known as “The Hunting of the Gowk.” The word gowk means cuckoo bird, which was a synonym for a fool, and on this first day of celebration, people would trick others to make foolish errands. The second day, known as Tailie Day, was the official day of the pranks involving all sorts of classics including sticking “kick me signs” on the backs of people.

Día de los santos inocentes

Now, the idea of a celebration of pranks isn’t exclusive to Europe nor even to April. In many Spanish-speaking countries, this day comes on December 28, in what is known as “Día de los Santos Inocentes” (Holy Innocents’ Day). This tradition is fully rooted in the Bible, in the nativity story to be precise. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod, King of Judea, paranoid of the epiphany he had just received about a baby being born that would overthrow him, ordered that all male children under two years of age had to be executed.


All these children came to be considered Martyrs, and December 28 became the Holy Innocents’ Day. Now for some twisted reason, this day turned into a day of pranks and foolishness known as ‘inocentadas’ because the victims of said pranks were too naive (innocent) to fall for them. So, in many Spanish-speaking countries where globalization has reached, there are two days to endure pranks all day.

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