Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2011
April Fools’ Day is actually celebrated in various cultures around the world – but how do residents beyond US borders celebrate, and how did all these shenanigans begin?
The Multicultural History of April Fools’ Day
There are various stories explaining the tradition of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day as it’s also known. Most cultures across the globe that celebrate the first of April mark it in the same way Americans do – by making fools of their friends. However, different theories about the origins of April Fools’ Day trace the holiday’s roots to diverse cultural traditions.
One theory suggests that the Hilaria festival of ancient Rome, a day of games and masquerades celebrated on March 25, is a possible precursor. Another idea points to the Indian Holi celebration of spring, which ends on March 31 and is known for the license it gives in the reversal of the usual rankings of caste, gender and social status.
France: Poisson d’Avril
Another theory about the origin of April Fools’ celebrations points to France’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which shifted New Year’s Day from March 25 to January 1. The fools were those who insisted on celebrating the end of New Year week on April 1.
Today, France celebrates April Fools’ Day in the form of poisson d’avril, or “April Fish,” which some believe to be a reference to the young fish that are newly hatched, naïve – and easily caught! A common French tradition among children involves pinning a paper fish to the backs of unwitting friends.
Scotland: Gowkie Day
In Scotland, April Fools’ is commonly known as Gowkie Day, referring to the gowk – that’s “cuckoo” in American English! The link between “cuckoo” and “cuckold” has led some to theorize that Scotland’s Gowkie Day was once a holiday associated with sexual license.
Today, a common practice – like in France, more so among children than adults – is the pinning of “Kick Me” signs to the backs of friends.
Iraq: Kithbet Neesan
Iraq’s April 1 tradition of Kithbet Neesan, or “April Lie,” was imported from the West decades ago and proved to be a popular holiday, celebrated as in the US with practical jokes.
In 1998, the Babil newspaper, owned by a son of then-President Saddam Hussein, published a page one story suggesting that United Nations sanctions on Iraq were going to come to an end. Those hopes were dashed on page two of the article, which ended with “only an April Fool’s joke. It is the beginning of spring. Many happy returns.”
Famous April Fools’ Pranks Around the World
An April Fools’ prank for the record books took place in Venice, in 1919, when the city’s inhabitants woke up to find horse manure dotting the streets – weird for a city with few horses! Turns out a visiting British prankster took the time to transport manure from the mainland and drop piles of it around the city.
In 1993, The China Youth Daily newspaper tried to get in on the April Fools’ fun when it published a story announcing that those with doctorate degrees would be exempt from China’s one-child limit. Unfortunately, the Agence France-Presse wire service picked up the report and ran it as a true story – oops.
What international April Fools’ mishaps or traditions do you know about? Let us know in the comments!