Much divides us, but one thing that knows no cultural bounds is the human desire to pull some silly, goofy little tricks.
April Fools’ Day has a shockingly global history, for a holiday devoted fully to mild deception. For some cultures, it’s not even relegated to one day in April, cracking the calendar wide open for multi-seasonal chaos.
Of course, whether such prankery even crosses your path has more to do with the company you keep than the places you live, but it’s fun to see what other countries are up to when they’re feeling a little Fools-ish. What you do with this information is beyond our control. Take it as inspiration, or as a simple warning that you are never truly safe from April Fools’ thrall.
While the origins of April Fools’ Day aren’t unanimously known, historians are pretty certain Ancient Romans, Western Europeans and people from the British Isles had a lot to do with it. In France, a longstanding tradition is to stick paper fish on other people’s backs, kind of like an elevated “kick me” sign. This harmless bit of mischief is accompanied by the phrase “Poisson d’Avril” which means, of course, “April Fish.” As one French site noted, it’s not exactly the latest trend or anything, but if people are charitable, maybe they’ll give you a half-hearted laugh for your efforts.
Interestingly enough, fish are also considered a lucky symbol in many areas of the world, and are important in a lot of New Year’s traditions. If you really want to go down an April Fools’ rabbit hole, one apocryphal origin theory suggests that when France switched from the Julian calendar to the current Gregorian calendar in the 1500s, people thought it would be funny to jokingly celebrate the old “New Year’s” and make fun of people who forgot the change. That old New Year’s Day was … April 1.
Much of Latin America celebrates “El Dia de los Inocentes,” or “Day of the Innocents,” a late December Catholic feast with extremely un-silly origins that somehow became a day of jokes and pranks. So for those cultures, the day to watch out for is December 28. In Brazil, however, April 1 is still the prank day of choice, and they cut straight to the chase by calling it “Dia das Mentiras,” or “Day of Lies.”
In Ibi, Alicante, Spain, they mark “El Dia de los Inocentes” (a.k.a. April Fools’ Day in December) by having a town-wide food fight, complete with military strategy and historical lore. The “Els Enfarinats” tradition is reportedly more than 200 years old and involves a mock military-style “takeover” of the town, where the new rulers get to make up strange laws that others have to abide by. If they don’t, they get “fined”and the money goes to charity. A little flour throwing, a little dancing, and the day of Risk-inspired LARPing is complete.
Iran could boast the oldest April Fools’ traditions with its observance of Sizdah Bedar, which also has a prank-playing element. It’s celebrated on the thirteenth day of the Persian New Year (are you sensing a pattern here?), on April 1 or 2. Sizdah Bedar, which is said to have been celebrated as far back as the 5th century BC, is translated as “getting rid of 13,” so it has an appropriately superstitious air. It’s also considered a spring festival, which ties in to some other April Fool’s predecessors, like the ancient Roman celebration of Hilaria.
Oh, is one April Fools’ Day not enough? Historically, in Scotland, they stretch the torture/festivities out over two days. First, there’s Hunt the Gowk Day, which actually isn’t as ominous as it sounds. “Gowk” is term for a type of bird, but is also slang for “fool,” and on this day, pranking Scots send unsuspecting gowks (the people, not the birds) on fool’s errands just to waste their time. If you don’t get gowked, there’s always an opportunity for humiliation the next day, which is “Tailie Day.” Tailie Day is for largely harmless derrière-related pranks, like pinning a tail on someone or sticking a sign on their back.
Prima Aprilis, or April 1, goes about the same in Poland as it does in any other pro-April-Fools’ place. However, research did turn up a fantastic parting phrase for prankers: Prima Aprilis, uważaj, bo się pomylisz! (April Fools’ Day, be careful — you can be wrong!)
Truly, advice to take throughout the year.