April, April! How April Fool’s Day is Celebrated Around the World

April, April! How April Fool’s Day is Celebrated Around the World

Different versions of April Fool's Day are celebrated all over the world. In some countries this holiday full of pranks and practical jokes dates back all the way to ancient times. In which country should you watch out for a paper fish taped to your back? Which country are you most likely to get hit by a sack of flour on April 1st? Read more to find out.

  1. Home
  2. Magazine
  3. In Trend
  4. April, April! How April Fool’s Day is Celebrated Around the World

No one is sure how April Fool’s Day started. There’s a popular theory that in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (which moved the start of the year from late March to January 1st), that the holdouts who refused to change their calendar became known as fools. Whether they ignored the calendar change or simply forgot about it, they continued to exchange gifts well into springtime and pranksters had a bit of fun with them by sending silly gifts or invitations to non-existent parties, and thus a tradition was born.

Today in France, April 1st is known as April Fish (poisson d’Avril), and children celebrate the day by attempting to tape paper fish to the backs of unsuspecting friends and adults without being noticed.

April fool's day poisson d'avril

However, the earliest mentions of April Fool’s Day in Western literature date back at least a century before the invention of the Gregorian calendar, and many more countries around the world have ancient prank-playing festivals that long predate this era as well. Many anthropologists now believe that April Fool’s Day is a remnant of what is known as a ‘renewal festival’—much older celebrations that marked the beginning of spring with revelry, jokes, and organized chaos to welcome the coming of a warmer, greener season. 

For example, Iran celebrates the ancient holiday of Sizdah Bedar on the 13th day of the Persian New Year (usually April 1st or 2nd). Families celebrate with outdoor picnics and barbecues. Iranians also throw green vegetables, or sabzeh, into a flowing river or stream, as a custom to rid homes of sickness for the coming year. The holiday represents the casting off of everything negative and welcoming gaiety and good luck—practical jokes are also a popular custom. The earliest known reference of pranks occurring dates back to 536 BC. 

The ancient Indian festival of Holi, which celebrates love and fertility with multiple traditions (the most well-known of which is the throwing of colored powders), is also a time for children to play pranks amidst the fun and excitement. 

April fool's day child clown

Mexico celebrates a counterpart to April Fool’s Day on December 28th: Día de los Santos Inocentes. What was originally a sad day commemorating the slaughter of children by King Herod has turned into a day of pranks and tricks in the midst of the Christmas season. People young and old play inocentadas on one another; if they’re caught, they yell ‘Inocente, inocente!’, as the word means both prank/joke and innocent!

Other countries around the world, whether they have older traditions or are just beginning to develop their own April Fool’s Day pranks, are putting their own spin on the holiday. In Portugal, for example, the most popular prank is to flour bomb someone—literally by taking a sack of flour and giving it a good swing at an unsuspecting friend. In the UK, it’s important that April Fool’s pranks are played before midday. In Germany, tricks (or Aprilscherze) are played all day long; the trickster shouts ‘April, April!’ once they’ve been found out. China is a relative newcomer to the holiday. April Fool’s Day (pinyin: yú rén jiē, literally: ‘foolish man festival’) has been observed by younger generations since the early 1990s. Popular pranks include fake news and sticking signs on friends’ backs.

What has become wildly popular in the past ten years all around the world are internet-based jokes. In 2015, Amazon ‘redesigned’ its website on April 1st—to look like a copy of Amazon’s homepage from 1999! During the same year, H&M launched an April Fool’s Day Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) clothing collection—of seven grey t-shirts. Google itself is the undisputed champion of April Fool’s Day jokes and has played hundreds over the past fifteen years. For example, in 2015 on April 1st, Google introduced ‘Pac-Maps’, which allowed the user to play Pac Man on real-world streets in Google Maps. 

Google pac maps

Image: Huffington Post

In 2016 they unveiled a feature called ‘Google Mic Drop’, which allowed the user to have the last word in an email exchange by sending a mic drop GIF that would disable all replies. The feature had to be disabled after hundreds of Google customers tried to use the function during important workplace email communications. Lesson learned: no matter how or where you celebrate April Fool’s Day, think twice and be careful with your pranks!