April Fools Day: Origins

Where do we get the strange custom of playing pranks on April 1? The short answer is that nobody knows for sure. All we know is that the custom was known in Renaissance Europe, and probably has roots older than that.

Some people think the idea of April Fools’ Day goes back to classical Roman times, when a joyful festival called Hilaria, originally probably an equinox celebration, came to be celebrated on March 25. In Roman terms, March 25 was called “the eighth of the Calends of April,” which associates the festival strongly with April 1, the Calends of April. However, there’s no hard evidence to connect Hilaria with April Fools’ Day, so this is just one of many guesses advanced by curious people.

Another common theory placing the origin of April Fools’ Day in the Roman Empire dates it to the reign of Emperor Constantine. According to this story, a group of fools or jesters convinced Constantine to make one of them “king for a day.” Constantine obliged, and one of the jesters, named “Kugel,” was appointed to the position. He decreed that it would be a day of jollity, and thus created what came to be called April Fools’ Day.

The only problem with that story is that it’s a hoax.  It was itself an April Fools’ Day prank, pulled by Boston University professor Joseph Boskin on Associated Press reporter Fred Bayles in 1983. Bayles reported the story, and the AP ran it, only to retract it some days later. This is a good object lesson: do not take as fact everything you read about April Fools’ Day. (But don’t worry–you can totally trust me!)

In France, “poisson d’avril,” or “April fish,” is the name for a person duped on April Fools’ Day. The first reference to “poisson d’avril” is from a 1508 poem by Eloy D’Amerval called Le Livre de la Deablerie, or The Book of Deviltry. However, from the context we can’t be sure if the author was referring to April 1 or to fools in general. The idea of the “April fish” seems to be the fact that fish were plentiful and hungry in the spring, and thus easy to catch—an “April fish” was more gullible than a fish at other times of the year. Thus, a mere reference to an “April fish” does not itself prove there was a holiday on April 1.

The first certain reference to April Fools’ Day comes from a 1561 Flemish poem by Eduard De Dene. In the poem, a nobleman sends his servant on crazy, fruitless errands. The servant recognizes that he is being sent on “fool’s errands” because it’s April 1. Eduard de Dene’s trick, in which someone is assigned an errand to find a nonexistent object or person, is still a popular April Fools’ joke over 450 years later!

April Fools’ Day brings out shenanigans from a variety of brands looking to cash-in on the buzz of the day. Here are some of the best hoaxes and pranks!

Volkswagen claimed to be changing its name to “Voltswagen” to promote its new electric car. The April Fools stunt was to meant promote the company’s new electric vehicle for the American market. However the story was issued two days before April 1, and the company refused to deny it so many ran it as ‘fact’ and VW pissed of every media organisation in on the planet from the BBC to Reuters. What a mess!


The iconic grass at Wimbledon has been turned purple ahead of the event this summer. Transformed from its perfectly pruned green, to bright purple, the makeover of Centre Court is in support of Robinsons new Blackcurrant squash.

An official partner of the tennis championships for over 85 years, Robinsons ensured that every 8mm blade of grass on the world-famous Centre Court got a pitch perfect purple finish.


McDonald’s have launched a three fries portion to put an end to chip thievery.


Google Nose! What’s that smell? According to Google, “smelling is believing,” which is why they were excited to introduce Google Nose, the newest scentsation in search, on April 1st. Positioned as an “internet sommelier,” Google Nose uses expertly curated Knowledge Graphs to pair images, descriptions, and aromas. Talk about a fragrant – and potentially pungent experience, depending on what you’re sniffing! File this one under, another innovation that would actually generate a huge business for Google!


Ah, ha! Gotcha!”
People say, whenever April
Rolls around. A ritual of trickery.
It’s always the same. We say,
Look!” when nothing’s there. Everyone

Forgets for a second that today is not like Other days. It seems that no
One tells the truth today. Do you
Like to play tricks?
So do I.

Don’t look now. There’s
A hairy spider on your head. Ah, ha! Made
You look!

Please, don’t get mad. I’m
Only kidding around. Nothing serious.
Eek! Why did you say there was a spider on
Me?

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