When I was a child, the local high school basketball team won the state tournament—a huge event in hoops-mad Indiana. The next year our team lost the semi-finals by a single point. I well remember the day my father brought home the local newspaper with a long article about how tapes of the game revealed that our star player had been fouled in the closing seconds, entitling him to shoot not one, but two free throws. The article explained that the player would be taken to the field house where the game in question had been played. If he made the two free throws, winning the semifinal game, tickets for a replay of the final would go on sale.
My sister and I jumped up and down excitedly. “Please! Please can we go!” It took a long time for us to understand my father’s explanation that the date on the paper was the first of April. We had been caught as “April Fools.”
The exact origins of the informal holiday are lost in time. It seems to have been well-established before it was ever mentioned in the written literature. But people in many cultures have been fond of playing jokes on one-another for centuries.
The oldest tradition of playing tricks is Sizdah Bedar, a Persian holiday celebrated as long ago as 534 B. C. Iranians still play jokes on the 13th day of their new year, which normally falls on April 1 or 2 of the European calendar.
In France children try to sneak up behind friends and attach a fish (poisson d’avril) without being seen. In the early twentieth century Frenchmen sent one another elaborate postcards decorated with fish. (Too bad Hallmark never discovered this one!) The poisson d’avril tradition seems to date back to 1564 when King Charles IX moved the date of the new year from the end of the Feast of the Annunciation on April 1 to January 1. Only fools and financial institutions continued to commemorate the new year in April.
In Poland the prima aprilis jokster tradition is so strong that an anti-Turkish alliance in 1683 had to be backdated to March 31!
Scottish tricksters send messengers on fool’s errands on Hunt-the-Gowk (cuckoo) Day. Their pranks are allowed to spill over to April 2.
Spanish pranksters and those in Ibero-america play tricks on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28) and call out “Innocent!” when they catch the gullible.
Wikipedia lists a huge number of pranks from spaghetti trees in Switzerland and a new “threenie” coin ($3) for Canada to the assassination of Bill Gates and the mummified remains of a dead fairy. The last sold on E-bay! There is even a site to list Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes.
The internet has opened doors to an infinite number of hoaxes not all in fun or confined to the traditional day. Be sure to check Snopes.com before you pass on the latest warning of a company’s logo being a secret Satanist symbol or offer of a free car to all customers.
Is April Fools' Day celebrated in your culture? What was the cleverest prank ever to take you in or the most successful one you ever pulled off?
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. She writes fiction for children and young adults and is famous for swallowing every practical joke ever pulled on her.