15 facts about April Fools’ Day

No, really!

April fools

by Stephanie Anthony |

With April Fools’ Day upon us (who else can't believe it's April already!) we look back at where the tradition came from and some of the most memorable moments of trickery.

  1. Around a dozen countries celebrate April Fools’ Day from Brazil, who call it 'the day of lies' lies’, to Greece where it is believed that if you can trick someone you’ll have good luck all year. In Belgium, France and Italy, the day is known as April Fish Day or "Poisson d'Avril." where it’s a common trick to attach a paper fish to somebody’s back as well as giving chocolate fish as gifts.
  1. In Iran, pranks have been played on April 1 since 536 BC. The day is the 13th day of the Persian New Year, and is called Sizdah Bedar. Families and friends will mark the new season by spending the afternoon outside with food, games and jokes.
  1. Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes also celebrate April Fool's Day, heralding warmer weather after the long winter.
  1. In the UK, the first known April Fools’ Day hoax was in 1698 when people were invited to a special ceremony to watch the washing of the lions at the Tower of London. Crowds turned up in their droves before realising it was a joke. The prank worked so well it was repeated every April 1, mainly targeting out-of- towners, unwise to the yearly trick.
  1. April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
  1. The Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego features a section on April Fools’ pranks, but despite pictures of the building and an informative website, the museum is itself a great big hoax!
  1. No one is certain where the April Fools’ tradition comes from, though there are several theories, one being that in 1582, France switched from the Julian calendar (which began the year on April 1) to the Gregorian calendar. Some people were slow to get news of the change and continued to celebrate the new year at the start of April, so were called April fools.
  1. Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to festivals such as Hilaria (Latin for joyful), which was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March by followers of the cult of Cybele. It involved people dressing up in disguises and mocking fellow citizens and even magistrates and was said to be inspired by the Egyptian legend of Isis, Osiris and Seth.
  1. Many organisations have stopped their April Fools’ traditions for fear of being accused of spreading ‘fake news’. In 2020, some major companies who normally run April 1 pranks, including Google, Heinz and Lego, cancelled plans because of the pandemic. However, there have been some pretty extravagant pranks over the years.
  1. In 1957, Richard Dimbleby told BBC Panorama viewers that Switzerland was experiencing “an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop”. Viewers contacted the BBC to ask where they could buy a spaghetti tree, others complained at the inclusion of a fictional segment during the news!
  1. In 1977, the Guardian published a travel guide to the mysterious island grouping of San Serriffe. The two islands, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, formed the shape of a semicolon. If that wasn’t enough to raise your suspicions, the part detailing education on the island read: “in addition to the mainstream subjects a San Serriffe teenager may well be offered pearl-diving as an A level choice”.
  1. Penguins can fly – In 2008 the BBC broadcast a feature about a rare breed of penguins with the ability to fly away from the cold Antarctic weather in favour of the exotic South American rainforests.
  1. Trampolining in the aisles - Tesco got us bouncing up and down at the idea of trampoline aisles they said they were introducing to stores in 2015 to help us reach the top shelves more easily.
  1. The London UFO - In 1989 London motorists looked up to see a glowing flying saucer depending. As it landed a silver-suited figure emerged sending the policeman dealing with the incident fleeing. It later turned out to be a hot air balloon built to look like a UFO by businessman Richard Branson.
  1. In 2007, Radio 4 told listeners of the Today programme that God Save The Queen would be replaced by a techno European Beethoven track. An event that seems even more unlikely today.

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