I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out the origin of April Fools’ Day. But it would make the basis for a great prank!
It does seem sad to me that, in most workplaces, the tradition of harmless jokes is dying out. Yes, I do understand the need to avoid giving offence or causing disruption. So, if we’re ever to see a bit of inoffensive leg-pulling, April Fools’ Day (tomorrow) is a good time for it.
Please don’t take this post as licence to disrupt or offend. But, if you can come up with something genuinely witty, why not? Make April Fools’ Day a source of fun for your colleagues!
What is April Fools’ Day?
It has become traditional in European countries, and other places to which the culture has spread, to play pranks and practical jokes on the first of April.
It is also now something of a modern tradition for some news networks to insert light-hearted hoax stories into their coverage on April Fools’ Day. This probably tracks back to the UK broadcaster, the BBC in 1957. That year, as part of the coverage of its serious news programme, Panorama, they included a segment on the bountiful Spaghetti Harvest. This showed workers gathering spaghetti from spaghetti trees. It fooled a large part of a nation that still regarded dried pasta as an exotic foreign delicacy.
And even more recently, some large corporations take out joke adverts on April Fools’ day – often advertising some ludicrous new technology they can offer. One prominent example is German car manufacturer, BMW, with some great examples.
What’s the Origin of April Fools’ Day
April Fools’ Day has certainly been around in the UK since 18th century and, on the Continent of Europe, since the late 17th century
The recent assertion that Chaucer mentions April Fools’ Day in the Nun’s Tale is likely a combination of shallow scholarship, wishful thinking, and poor transcription of the Canterbury Tales many years ago. Hoaxes.com suggests the earliest reliable evidence for April Fools’ Day is in a Flemish book of poems and songs, dating to 1561.
Certainly in some Germanic cultures (and therefore the Anglo Saxon cultures of mediaeval England) associated the spring equinox (around 20 March) with festivals of jollity to mark the coming of summer. And going back to perhaps earlier times in Southern Europe, with a possible link to the Roman festival of Hilaria, which also fell around the equinox. This saw citizens celebrating in disguises and may also be linked to the Italian tradition of masked revels.
Calendar Change? Maybe
Another association with April Fools’ day is the change of calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, in 1582. As well as sorting out a slippage in the calendar with a new system of leap days and the insertion of 6 extra days to make up for lost time, it shifted the New Year from 1 April to 1 January. I’m not sure I buy the association as anything more than adding a layer onto a pre-existing tradition.
By the way, an old start to the year of 1 April, and the addition of extra days to fix the slippage of the old Julian calendar explains the otherwise bizarre fact that Britain’s tax year starts on 6 April.
Bums? That’s a real thing
It seems that a number of cultures celebrate April Fools’ Day with sticking stuff to people’s behinds. In France, this is paper fish, and April Fools’ Day is know as Poisson d’Avril or April Fish. Some assert a link to rivers being ripe with vast numbers of fish at this time of year.
Then we have Scotland’s traditional two days of misrule. ‘Hunting the Gowk’ on 1 April, when people play tricks, tell fibs, and set foolish tasks, to try and catch each other out. This stops at mid-day, but is followed by ‘Preen-tail Day’ or ‘Tailie Day’ on 2 April, when people attach paper tails to the backs of unsuspecting people as a joke.
Tomorrow is April Fools’ Day. Take care.
By the way…
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