April Fools’ Day Around the World!
Believe it or not, there is quite a serious story behind the silliest day of the year.
Right back in the Romans days, there was a festival being held around the end of March, called Hilaria, where people would disguise themselves as fellow Romans, so to shamefully make fun of them.
Fast forward a few centuries until 1563, when the Council of Trento suggested a change of calendar in France. Sadly, some people living in more rural hamlets never got the news and kept following their old counting instead of switching to the Gregorian calendar. Those were therefore addressed ad “poisson d’avril” (April fish), a young fish easily taking the bait, or more broadly a credulous and naive person.
Others want to find a link between April Fools and the Spring Equinox, taking place at the end of March in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature notoriously fools us with very unstable weather.
Only a couple of centuries ago, Scotland had a two-day event to celebrate the tradition. Gowkie Day, a phony errand looking for a cuckoo bird also known as “Hunting the gowk”, followed by Tailie Day, when all kind of pranks were played to people, including the old-fashioned “kick me” sign on their backs.
In contemporary times, most countries around the world still chose this day to have a bit of fun at the expenses of the more gullible.
The first day of April in Italy is “Pesce d’aprile”, however the legendary story refers to a different piscatorial item, one guilty to have almost choked the Pope. Thanks to a fortunate series of events, the Holy Father of the time was then saved, spreading thereafter the tradition of eating fish on every 1st April (albeit with more caution).
In Germany as well, we see people pulling all sorts of jokes and pranks, in true “Aprilscherz” spirit. Whereas in Portugal, the day changes every year as it falls on the Sunday and Monday before Lent, but the rules are very much serious: jokes are only to involve flour. The white powder is bought in advance and unloaded on the unlucky souls passing by.
In Spain and Mexico
Curiously, in Spain and in Mexico, we can all be a bit silly on 28th of December, “El día de los inocentes”, historically when Herod chose to exterminate all the newborns in his mad fight against baby Jesus. With time, the day became more light-hearted, an occasion to play foolish jokes amongst adults and kids.