What is April Fools’ Day?

In the UK 1 April is fools’ day and the one day of the year when it is completely OK to play pranks on friends and strangers. In fact everyone, including the media and businesses, are on a mission to get people believing or doing something ridiculous.

It is a day that gets everyone laughing and joking, but what are the origins of this quirky custom?

What are the origins of April Fools’ Day?

The origins of April Fools’ Day can be traced back to medieval times when Europeans stopped celebrating the start of the New Year from 25 March to 1 April after Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (the Gregorian calendar) to replace the old Julian Calendar in 1582. The new calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on 1 January.

However, many people either refused to accept the new date or did not learn about it and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on 1 April. Over time these traditionalists became the butt of jokes and people would tease them by calling them fools for believing that the year started on 1 April. This eventually led to the custom of April Fools’ Day, when it was acceptable to play a prank in the name of fun.

Origins of April Fools’ Day in the UK

The first British reference to April Fools’ Day was in 1698 when an article was written about people being tricked into going to the Tower of London to see the lions being washed.

April Fools’ Day remains popular in the UK. Big companies even produce adverts promoting products and services that are not real, just for a joke. Traditionally, in England a prank can only be pulled before midday and an April Fool joke is revealed by shouting “April fool!” at the recipient.

H&M and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg team up to have some fun for April Fools’ Day.

In Scotland and Ireland the traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message that supposedly requests help. In fact, the message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” which translated means “don’t laugh, don’t smile, send the messenger another mile“. The recipient, upon reading it, will explain he can only help if he first contacts another person, and sends the victim to another person with an identical message.

A famous April Fools’ prank in the UK

The UK media has a long history of fooling the public with elaborate hoaxes for April Fools’ Day. In one famous prank from 1957, the BBC broadcast a film that showed Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti, in what they called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. The BBC were later flooded with requests to purchase a spaghetti plant, forcing them to declare the film a hoax on the news the next day.

If you have a question for our resident Brit, drop us an email at askabrit@greatbritishmag.co.uk.