Apparently the idea of setting aside a whole day for pranks is universal. Short-sheeting beds, replacing frosting with toothpaste, and baking a cake with salt not sugar…. it’s all about tricking your friends so you can laugh at their expense. (There — I’ve given you a few ideas).
But we Americans are not alone in our desire to embarrass our friends: April Fools’ Day is observed the world over, in many cultures, often to inaugurate spring and celebrate the changing of the seasons. How do different cultures celebrate, and how did all this trickery begin?
Where Did It Start?
There are various theories about how the April Fools’ Day tradition came about, also known as All Fools’ Day. One suggests that it may have been born of the Hilaria festival of ancient Rome — a day of games and masquerades celebrated on March 25. It also may stem from the Indian Holi celebration of spring. Ending on March 31, Holi gives people prankster freedom through the reversal of the usual positions of caste, gender and social status.
A Few of My Favorites
From various web sources, I’ve culled my favorites. Here they are:
- France and Italy — The holiday here is known as Poisson d’Avril (French), or Pesce d’aprile (Italian), which translates to April Fish. Kids tape a picture of a fish on the back of an innocent and unsuspicious friend (frenemy?) and laugh their heads off once the trick is discovered.
- Scotland — Here, April 1 is known as Hunt the Gowk day. To celebrate “cuckoo” day, you send a friend on a fool’s errand by asking him to deliver a message requesting help. The contents of message are simply for the recipient to pass it along and continue the chain. The Scottish love their tricks so much that they have added a second day, known as Taily Day, on which jokesters apply the infamous “Kick Me” sign to a friend’s posterior. (Actually kicking that person is simply taking it too far).
- Iran — Falling on April 1 or April 2, the 13th day of the Persian New Year is called Sizdah Bedar. Legend has it that tricksters have played pranks on this day since 536 BC, perhaps making it the oldest known day of tomfoolery. Mischievous people spend the afternoon outside, celebrating the new season with food, frivolity, games, and jokes. Traditionally, after a picnic, people throw away green vegetables, which represent bad luck or bad health in the coming year.
- Portugal — The Portuguese celebrate April Fools’ on the Sunday and Monday prior to Lent, and on these special days they surprise someone by throwing flour on them.
- India — India’s Holi festival is celebrated on March 31, and just like everywhere else, it’s a day to play jokes. Similar to Portugal, but with more colors, Indians toss colored dust on each other and wear face and body paint.
What other culturally specific April Fools’ traditions have you encountered?