April Fool's Day: What are the best pranks and where did it come from?

Telegraph Reporters
A carnevalist dressed as clown waves during the traditional Rose Monday parade in Duesseldorf, Germany, - Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A day of laughter

It is a tradition in Western societies to take-part in pranks and trickery on the first day of April every year. Taken as an opportunity by many to inflict some quick humour into an otherwise ordinary day.   

Although April Fool's activities are often trivial, there is an increasing trend for big brands and media organisations to turn-the-tables on consumers.   

According to the Museum of Hoaxes, the BBC's Panorama were the first to televise an April Fool's Day effort in 1957. The plan was the brainchild of Austrian filmmaker Charles de Jaeger, who captured footage of farmers harvesting Swiss spaghetti trees. 

A British audience unfamiliar with pasta reacted with amusement as much as amazement, leading the spaghetti spoof to become an instant icon of April Fool's trickery.  

Sixty years later, in 2007, Radio 4 told listeners of the Today programme that God Save The Queen would be replaced by a techno European Beethoven track. An event that seems even more unlikely today.  

In an era of 'fake news' and instant social media circulation, it can seem that every day is more foolish than the next. So last year, Norway's Bergen Times newspaper opted-out of April Fool's day puns in their pages. 

The first fool

The origins of the day are uncertain. One common April Fool's theory is that the tradition stems from the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 across continental Europe.  

When Pope Gregory XIII called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on January 1 instead of the end of March, the joke was on those who missed the memo and celebrated New Year’s Day on April 1. 

Those caught out were inevitably made fun of, and sent on fools errands. 

Because Britain did not adopt the new calendar until 1752, it is almost certain that April Fool's did not appear in the UK in this way.  

Another theory places the pranks of April Fool's Day in the passing of the first day of Spring.  A time when festivals have historically marked the end of winter with mischief, according to the Museum of Hoaxes.

These include the disguised costumes of the Ancient Roman festival of Hilaria that celebrated the resurrection of the god Attis.

In reality, the origins of annual mischief on April 1 are lost among tales of national mythology and time. Every society offers a different story about how April Fools Day started.

It became a cornerstone of the annual calendar by the 1700s, marking April 1 as the funniest day of the year.  

Top 5 | April Fools Day pranks

April Fool's around the world

Around a dozen countries celebrate April Fool's Day, with the 'day of lies', or dia da mentira, recognised in Brazil. 

Belgium, Italy and France acknowledge April 1 as 'April Fish' day. Called Poisson d’Avril in French, or pesce d'aprile in Italian, which sees children taping fish on people's backs. 

In Scotland, April Fool's Day was formerly known as Huntigowk Day – gowk being Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person. Traditionally people were sent on a foolish errand to deliver a sealed message reading ‘Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile’.

In Iran pranks have been played on April 1 since 536 BC. The day is the 13th day of the Persian New Year, and is called Sizdah Bedar. Families and friends will mark the new season by spending the afternoon outside with food, games and jokes.

India’s Holi festival is celebrated in March. On this day people play jokes, throw coloured dust and wear face and body paint to officially welcome spring.

Meanwhile, in Portugal people throw flour over each other.

Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes also celebrate April Fool's Day, heralding warmer weather after the long winter.

Prankster performances

Although no reference is made to April Fool's Day in any of Shakespeare's works, many of his plays feature a fool, clown or jester character.

Puck and Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Fool in King Lear and Feste in Twelfth Night are perhaps the most notable examples.

The fool was usually a clever peasant or commoner who used his wits to outdo people of higher social standing. The character often appears after dramatic or horrific scenes, bringing a bit of light or comic relief to the stage. The fool was also used to make complex ideas easier for the audience to understand. 

The 1986 horror film April Fool's Day featured a group of college students staying at a friend's remote island mansion. They begin to fall victim to an unseen murderer over the April Fool's day weekend. A remake of the film was made in 2008.

April Fools Day pranks

Foolish food recipes

Apple custard fool

Fresh apples: perfect for cooking with Credit: Andrew Crowley 

Cranberry fool

A fresh fruit fool  Credit: Andrew Crowley

Gooseberry fool

Gooseberry jam, ideal for adding to a sweet spring dish Credit: Westend61/GETTY

Roast apricot and orange-blossom fool recipe

Ripe apricots  Credit: Christopher Jones