April Fools! How could I not have realised it was the 1st of April when our teacher started handing out an unexpected exam about what we had learned so far? For many of my Spanish classmates, April Fools is not such a common thing, but for me as a Dutchman I really felt stupid not realising that the 1st of April is the perfect day for joking, fooling, pranking and hoaxing around.
The exact origins of April Fools are unknown and there are various theories about it. One of them is the fact that in medieval France New Year was celebrated from the 25th of March until the 1st of April. As a consequence, there was a tradition among people who celebrated New Year on the 1st of January to make fun of people who celebrated New Year on other dates. In The Netherlands, there is a common theory that finds its origins in the defeat of the Spanish Duke of Alva in the city of Den Briel on the 1st of April. There is a proverb that says “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril” (On the 1st of April, Alva lost his glasses). The word for glasses (bril) and the name of the city Den Briel are ortographically and phonologically very similar.
“1 april, kikker in je bil, die er nooit meer uit wil!”
(1st of April, frog in your butt, that never wants to get out!)
Usually the jokes are innocent: your neighbour is telling your shoelaces got loose or your friend tells you he is planning to move to another city. Schools as well usually never resist the temptation to fool their students by telling them there will be no longer gender separated bathrooms or that all breaks will be shortened by 5 minutes. The image above is a prank carried out by the municipality of Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2001. Many companies take April Fools to another level and try to fool their customers too. In fact, April Fools has become much more a marketing campaign to attract attention, especially since social media provide great opportunities to let a video go viral around the world wide web. This year, Google announced a self-driving bike for the Dutch market.
In Belgium there used to be a Stupid Children Day, but this day has lost its popularity in favour of April Fools during the last couple of decades. This day was celebrated on December 28 and in other countries, like Spain and its former colonies, it is still known and celebrated as the Day of the Holy Innocents (Día de los Santos Inocentes). Its origins lie in the Bible story about the massacre demanded by King Herod when he heard about a new King had been born. As a consequence, all children under two years were killed in the city in Bethlehem. This does explain where the Belgian name for this prank day comes from, but nonetheless it is still unknown how pranks actually became involved in this originally Christian holiday.
In China, on the other hand, April Fools has been banned by the Chinese government from this year on, since it is regarded as a western concept that does not fit the Chinese culture. And no, this is not a joke.