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By Lesley Francis


Next Monday is April 1st – April Fools’ Day. While I enjoy a joke, I am not one to make crude practical jokes like tying shoe laces together or switching salt for sugar and then shouting April fools! However, given all the bad news and stress in the world today, we could all do with some light relief. This got me thinking about the origins of April Fools’ Day. 

It is widely believed that this unofficial holiday began in France in 1582 when the country switched to the Gregorian calendar which recognizes new year as January 1. People who did not get the news in time or ignored it and continued to celebrate the new year in spring were teased and called “April fools.” A popular prank against these people was to place a paper fish on their backs to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person. To this day French children do this to their unsuspecting friends and fooled people are called “poisson d’avril” (April fish). On a more positive note, the French get to indulge in eating “chocolaterie buissière”, chocolate figurines which are shaped like fish. There is a similar tradition in Italy. 

However, there are a number of different theories around the origins of April Fools’ Day. There is evidence of an earlier tradition of pranking someone which was recorded in a Flemish poem in 1561 which reports on a servant who was sent on a number of pointless fools’ errands on April 1st. Other historians think that the expression came from people who were fooled by the changeable spring weather – which could be catastrophic for farmers in those tenuous days of relying on a good harvest to eat that winter. Yet more people think that it originates from the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria on March 25. This festival celebrated the goddess Cybele and was a fun filled day when masquerades became popular allowing everyone to disguise themselves and imitate other people, fooling others to their real identity. There is also speculation that April Fools’ Day is related to the Hindu celebration of Holi which ends on March 31. The amusing tradition of celebrants dressed in white, coming out to the street and throwing brightly colored powders at each other, leaving everybody multi colored, makes me think of all the laundry they need to do the next day!  

Whatever its origins, April Fools’ Day is celebrated in many countries as an excuse to make someone “play the fool”. In many western countries, this tradition is only observed until noon, so pranksters must get all their fun out of the way in the morning. This was true in England when I was growing up but just over the border in Scotland it lasts two full days. The first day is ‘Gowkie’ Day as gowks or cuckoos are symbols of the fool. The second day people pin signs to friends’ backs reading “kick me” or similar. 

In Finland, after you manage to fool someone on April Fools’ Day, the custom is to shout “Aprillia, syö silliä, juo kuravettä päälle,” which weirdly translates to “April trick, eat herring, drink muddy water afterwards!” There is something similar in the Netherlands where the Dutch shout, “1 april, kikker in je bil, die er nooit meer uit wil,” at their victim. That roughly translates to “1st of April, frog in your butt, that never wants to come out again.” If you manage to trick someone in Greece, it’s thought that their misfortune will become your good luck, so there’s a real incentive to do some heavy-duty pranking. And if it rains, grab a bucket, because the water is said to have healing powers on April Fools’ Day. 

In many countries the media participate with false headlines or news stories. This is fairly common back in the land of my birth. One of my favorites happened in 2008, when the BBC broadcasted news across the UK saying penguins in Antarctica started flying and that those penguins had flown to South America’s tropical rain forests. When I was a child in England, the BBC announced one year that on April 1st the gravity of earth would be reduced by a certain level and whoever jumped in the air would lightly float! Travel companies have also been known to play tricks on people surfing their websites on April 1, for example by announcing that the company is taking bookings for trips to Mars!

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I will leave you with a thought-provoking quote from 19th century American writer Mark Twain: “April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.”  

God Bless America and have fun on April Fools’ Day!   

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Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at or via her full-service marketing agency at