April Fools' Day: What does it mean and where does it originate?

Caroline Allen
Contributor
We're competing to play the best tricks on each other. (Getty Images)

Whether you’re tentatively sipping your tea or stealthily tiptoeing around every corner, you can be forgiven for feeling a bit cautious on April Fools’ Day.

1 April marks the day in which people from all over the world compete to play practical jokes on one another.

Nobody knows exactly where April Fools’ Day originated from, but as far as the UK is concerned, it dates back to the 19th century.

In those days, the practical jokes were aimed mainly at children but nowadays everybody gets in on the action.

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What does April Fools’ Day mean?

On April Fools’ Day people play pranks on each other with the aim of “fooling” the recipient of the prank.

If the person you’re pranking is fooled by your practical jokes then they’ll be henceforth known (on 1 April at least) as an “April Fool”.

Where can we trace the day back to?

There are plenty of theories about the day, but perhaps the most believable traces April Fools’ Day back to the 16th century.

When Pope Gregory XIII decided to change over to a new yearly calendar - the Gregorian calendar - people struggled to adjust to the new year.

You see, before the Gregorian calendar, New Year’s Day was celebrated on 1 April, but the change saw people celebrating it on 1 January (as we now know it).

During that transition period, those who celebrated on the wrong day were branded as “fools” which in turn encouraged the start of April Fools’ Day.

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Another credible theory is that the day comes from Dutch origin. It’s sometimes attributed to the Dutch victory at Brielle in 1572.

When the Spanish were defeated in this battle on 1 April, a saying surfaced: “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril”.

The translation of this is: “On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses.”

The saying is actually a pun because “bril” means both the battle of Brielle as well as “bril” which in dutch means glasses.

How is April Fools’ Day celebrated around the world?

There’s a prank element to every country’s celebrations, but each place puts their own twist on the tradition.

In France, for example, children will prank each other by taping paper fish to each other’s backs. They do this because 1 April used to be seen as an easy day to catch fish in streams and lakes in France.

France isn’t the only country to trick people by taping something to people’s backs. In fact, many people believe the “kick me” signs taped to people’s backs originated in Scotland for the purpose of April Fools’ Day.

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What are the rules?

Anything goes as far as pranking is concerned, but one strict rule in the UK is that it only lasts until noon, any pranks after that time don’t count.

If you’re in any other country, though (apart from Canada who follow the same rule as the UK) you can enjoy April Fools’ Day all day long.