The first day of April is a great day for pranksters and jokesters, as this is the day that they celebrate April Fool’s Day. Even the media is not spared from this. There have been incidences reported that seemed real but were in fact carefully devised by media people.
Panorama was a news program produced in Britain. British families who were watching the current events show on the evening of the first day of April in 1957 saw a Swiss family who were harvesting spaghetti from their trees. The segment ran for four minutes. In reality it was a hoax concocted by a freelance cameraman. The news showed cooked spaghetti strands harvested from the trees in someone’s vineyard. The cameraman and the staff of the show were elated for elevating the age-old tradition to new heights for only 100 pounds. They did not mind acrimonious headlines in the papers and the numerous angry letters they received.
Many theories were floated around. While the likely source of the tradition is difficult to trace, the practice of playing pranks has been recorded since the 1700s.
Origin of April Fool’s Day
April Fool’s Day is not a religious or a public holiday but it is recognized by many people in many parts of the world, especially in the West. This is a day when playing a harmless prank on coworkers will not earn a reprimand or even termination. Children can get away with playing a joke on their parents. Even news outlets can get away with pranking their viewers and readers.
It has become a phenomenon. Yet its origin is hazy and undetermined. What is clear is that April Fool’s Day has been practiced for centuries.
One theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day is Hilaria, which is a Roman tradition. It is a spring fest that is held during the vernal equinox, which is around March 25. Activities during this day include processions and games. Commoners played masquerades, disguising as nobility for devious purposes to get a good laugh among themselves.
It is difficult to ascertain if some of the events were coincidences or legitimate pranks. Eduard de Dene, a Flemish poet, wrote a comical verse in 1561 pertaining to a nobleman. Apparently the person sent his servant here and there on ridiculous errands to prepare for a wedding feast. The title of the poem was roughly translated as ”Refrain on errand-day, which is the first of April.” In Britain, April Fool’s Day was first mentioned by John Aubrey. He was a biographer who depicted the day as “Fooles holy day” in 1686.
In the latter part of the 1600s, an incident had to be debunked by a local newspaper in London on its second day of April edition. Apparently many people were at that time tricked in going on April 1, 1698 to the Tower of London. There was supposed to be a ”washing of the lions” event on that day. While the local paper exposed it as a hoax, the writers also mocked the gullible people who believed the non-existent ceremony.
Popularity and more theories
The practice of playing pranks on friends, family and colleagues became very popular around the 1700s. But its origin could be around the mid-16th century.
Historians think that it started in 1582 when France changed its calendar system from Julian to Gregorian. The Council of Trent called for the change in 1563. It was Pope Gregory XIII who ruled that January 1 would be the start of the year. Before the switch the New Year was celebrated at the end of March until the first day of April.
France was the first to accept the switch to the new calendar system with January 1 signaling the start of the year. Many countries did not accept the use of the Gregorian calendar and continued to follow the Julian calendar. Those who refused to accept the change were called fools and people who were not aware of the change or were not reached by the news quickly became the victims of hoaxes and jokes.
Some historians think that it’s linked to the first day of spring, a time they correlate to the way people are fooled by Mother Nature by the unpredictable and changing weather in the Northern Hemisphere.
Another origin story about April Fool’s Day is exclusive to the Netherlands. In this country, April Fool’s Day is associated with the 1572 victory of the Dutch in Brielle, where they defeated Álvarez de Toledo, Grand Duke of Alba (Spain) and the Iron Duke (Netherlands), who was known for his brutalities.
There is a Dutch proverb that when translated revealed, “On the first day of April, Alva lost his glasses,” (Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril). The Dutch word for ”glasses” is bril. In this case, the term referred to the Brielle, a historic seaport in the western part of the Netherlands.
April Fool’s Day traditions around the world
The celebration of April Fool’s Day or All Fools’ Day is done around the world, and the traditions continue. In the United Kingdom, prankster usually shouts “April fool” at the person who receives the prank. Folklorists Peter and Iona Opie said that this British tradition, which was exported to countries that came under British rule, is only practiced until the middle of the day. When a person plays a prank past the midday mark, he or she will be called the ”April fool.”
In Scotland, the day used to be termed as ”Huntigowk Day.” It is a corrupted version of the phrase, “Hunt the Gowk.” The Scottish term gowk translates to foolish person or a cuckoo. In Gaelic, the day is called Là Ruith na Cuthaige (day of running the cuckoo) or Là na Gocaireachd (gowking day).
In their prank, a person is asked to bring a request for help in a sealed envelope. The actual message is “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” and the recipient has to explain that he or she could only help after getting in touch with another person. The recipient then sends the person who delivered the message to the next recipient and the joke continues until the time’s up.
The same type of joke is played in Ireland. An important letter is delivered from one person to the next by the chosen April fool. The message in the letter reads, “send the fool further,” which is why the poor recipient of the joke has to deliver the letter to several people before the joke is revealed.
Poland celebrates the day as prima aprilis, a Latin term meaning ”1 April.” They also consider it as a day of jokes (and hoaxes). The jokes and hoaxes are well conceived and sophisticated. Ordinary people, public institutions and even people from the media cooperate to create ”credible information.” Polish people avoid serious activities during this day. Back in the 18th century, even the signing by Leopold I of the anti-Turkish alliance was backdated to the date before April 1. Visitors to Poland should keep in mind that on April 1, take every word that is said as a joke or a lie. The celebration ends at noon. Beyond that time, the jokes are considered without class and inappropriate.
April Fool’s Day is also observed in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark. In Finnish it is called aprillipäivä while the Danes call it aprilsnar. On this day, the media outlets are allowed to publish a false story. It could be on the first page but they do not make it the top story.
In the French speaking areas of Canada and Switzerland, in the Netherlands and in Belgium, France and Italy, the tradition is called poissons d’avril (French), aprilvis (Dutch), pesce d’aprile (Italian) and April fish in English. In these countries, people attempt to tape a paper shaped like a fish on the back of their chosen victim. With ”fish” as a clue, newspapers print a false story on April 1.
Although India does not observe the tradition, there are several references to the day in popular literature and Indian films. While in Lebanon, they also play a practical joke and announces it by calling out ”April’s fool” (كذبة ابريل) to the recipient of the joke.
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