April Fool's Day

It’s April Fool’s Day today and since I’m living in the land of sunshine, braais (barbecues) and rugby, I can expect the headlines in the Sunday papers, the status updates on facebook and the local news programmes to be false, funny our outrageous. Until lunchtime, I’ll ignore the lot which will be easy since I only woke up at 10h00 this morning and am no mood for idle banter or anyone other than my children. So what’s this thing called April Fool’s Day and where did it originate?

The day is celebrated all over the world in different ways:

  • In some Southern Hemisphere countries it’s celebrated on the 1st of October but everywhere else, it’s on the 1st of April and here’s some stuff you may not know:
  • In South Africa it’s celebrated on the 1st of April.
  • I some countries it’s called All Fool’s Day.
  • It’s not a public holiday but it’s generally a day of hoaxes, humour and hilarity and practical jokes are the order of the day.
  • In France & Italy kids and adults often tack paper fish on each other’s backs & shout ‘april fish’ in whichever language they happen to speak (poisson d’avril (fr) and pesce d’aprile (it).
  • The first time April Fool’s hilarity was recorded was in the  Canterbury Tales by Chaucer (1392). In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, a festival called ‘Syn March’ was the day upon which Chauntecleer (a vain cock) was tricked by a fox; Syn Fox was celebrated on the 32nd day of March, in other words, the 1st of April.
  • In ancient Rome a similar day was held – it was known as the festival of Hilaria and it was celebrated on the 25th of March.
  • In Medieval times, a Festival of Fools was celebrated on the 28th of December and to this day everyone in Spanish speaking countries still play pranks on one another.
  • In 1508 Eloy d’Amerval, a French poet, wrote about the poisson d’avril.
  • In 1539 Eduard de Dene, a Flemish poet, tells the tale of nobleman who sent his servants on silly errands on the 1st of April.
  • In 1686 John Aubrey called this day Fooles Holy Day – it was the first time a Brit used this term; three years later, a group of people were tricked into visiting the Tower of London to see lions being washed; in Europe, during Medieval times, New Years Day was held on the 25th of March but the French wanted more of holiday so they celebrated for a whole week that ended on the 1st of April; however, by the mid 16th century, the French accepted the 1st of January as the beginning of their new year and in 1564 it became official with the Edict of Roussillon.
  • Belgium: here children lock out their parents or teachers & only allow them back in again if they promise to bring sweets & cakes that evening or the following day.
  • Denmark: 1st of April is celebrated here despite the fact that there’s another day, the 1st of May which is  Maj-kat (May cat) which is also a day of hilarity & practical jokes; however the Danes, like the Swedes celebrate April Fools’ Day.
  • France, Romany & French Canada: the tradition of poisson d’avril continues to this day and people do their level best to stick paper fish on one another’s backs without anyone noticing it on the 1st of April.
  • Korea (the Joseon dynasty): here the royal family & their courtiers were allowed to lie & play jokes on one another, regardless of their social standing or the hierarchy, on the 1st snowy day of the year – eg, they could stuff snow inside little bowls & have it sent to the prankee with fake excuses, whomsoever received the snow, lost the game & had to grant one wish to the prankster; all pranks were unplanned & there was no malice intended.
  • Iran: the 13th day of the Persian new year (Norouz), usually falls on the 1st of 2nd of April and since about 536 BC the day was reserved for pranks & hilarity; it’s called Sizdah Bedar & is the oldest prank-tradition in the world still alive today. For this reason the intelligentsia believe that this was the origin of April Fools’ Day.
  • Menorca, a Spanish island: here Fooling Day (Dia d’enganyar) is celebrated on the 1st of April because Menorca was a British possession during the 18th century.
  • Italy: the words Pesce d’aprile is used widely here & also refers to all and any jokes played on one another on the 1st of April.
  • Poland: the 1st of April is a day of jokes & hoaxes and they’re prepared by everyone, including the media and public institutions; all and any serious activities are avoided like the plague on this day – they feel so strongly about it that anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I, though signed on the 1st of April 1683, was backdated to the 31st of March.
  • Scotland: in this country April Fools’ Day was once called Hunt-the-Gowk (a cuckoo or a fool) Day but this has been discontinued; traditionally sealed message asking for help are delivered and they read “Dinna laugh, dinna smile; hunt the gowk another mile” – the person who read it would answer by saying that he could only assist if the person who sent the letter in the first place, contacted someone else and so on – huge fun.
  • Spain & other Spanish-speaking countries: the hilarity is mainly celebrated on día de los Santos Inocentes on the 28th of December pranks are also played on one another & this may extend to Belgium & the province of Antwerp.
  • Sweden: the 1st of April is a day of pranks and here the news media generally publish a false story on the front page but never as a headline story, though; however, the 1st of May is also Maj-kat Day & it’s an alternative day of jokes.

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