April Fools' Day: The Origins Of The Prank Holiday And How It's Celebrated Around The World

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For those of you who have fallen victim to Google's YouTube shutdown announcement, Rihanna and Chris Brown's split or Twitter's new no vowel service -- Happy April Fools’ Day!

Even “Kid President” helped the White House take part in the prank holiday in a “special video message from the President.”

And while April Fools' Day might seem trite, it marks a tradition that could date back as far as the 16th century.

So how did April Fools’ Day begin?

The origins of the hoax holiday are a bit cloudy. The April 1 celebration may have begun in France around 1582. This was the year the Gregorian calendar was adopted that moved New Year’s Day from March 25 to Jan. 1. Those who were late to the date change and continued to celebrate New Year Week on April 1 were teased and called fools.

Alex Boese, the curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, thinks this popular theory is wrong.

"Traditionally it was only a legal start to the year -- people in France did actually celebrate [the New Year] on Jan. 1 for as long as anybody could remember," he told National Geographic.

Instead, Boese holds that April Fools’ Day stems from a European spring tradition where people disguised themselves as practical jokes.  

April Fools' Around The World

Despite the different theories surrounding the origin of the holiday, playing jokes is a worldwide obsession.

In France, those who are fooled are called “poisson d’avril” (April fish), and it’s common for pranksters to pin a cardboard fish onto a person’s back. The fish may come from an early Christian symbol for Jesus Christ or be related to the zodiac sign of Pisces.

Scotland calls April 1 “Gowkie Day”, named after the gowk or cuckoo bird that represents the fool and the cuckold – which might mean the holiday has some sexual underpinning. Sticking “kick me” signs to friends’ backs is a popular prank.

In Iraq the day is called “Kithbet Neesan” (April lie). Like the Western tradition, friends and family play jokes on each other. In 1998 Saddam Hussein’s son took part by publishing a front-page story in his newspaper saying that President Clinton called for the United Nations sanctions against Iran to be lifted. After the Iraq War began, Iraqis used the day to joke about the troubling world around them. The New York Times reported that young people fooled others into thinking friends had been assassinated, arrested and kidnapped at the hands of American or Iraqi forces.

In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, April Fools’ Day is celebrated on Dec. 28. Known as the Day of the Holy Innocents, the day commemorates the biblical story where King Herod upon hearing of Christ's birth, ordered the death of every child in Bethlehem under the age of 2 in an effort to secure his throne. While Christ and his family were warned and escaped the slaughter, other children died. Spanish and Latin American countries make light of the sad story by pulling pranks and reciting a poem after someone has been fooled.

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