April Fools Day
photo credit: eleanor ryan via photopin cc

Did you know that April Fools Day dates back to ancient Rome? Known as the Hiliaria Festival, Romans honored the goddess Cybele on the vernal equinox with shouts of joy and feasting. Strict rules stipulated that revelers could show no signs of sadness. Fast forward to the medieval Feast of Fools, which took place annually until about the 16th century. Due to coarse humor and some abuses, officials tended to frown on the revelries. Yet the tradition was here to stay. From then on, celebrants marked the first day of April with practical jokes and by playing tricks on unsuspecting friends and family members.

To this day, American children look forward to the day when they can play pranks without too much worry about consequences. The Roar, a Florida high school newspaper, suggests that youngsters glue coins to the sidewalk and hide nearby to watch people as they attempt to pick them up. Another suggested practical joke involves a plastic spider that the prankster can hide in the shower before an intended victim enters it. The youth is then encouraged to “listen for the scream.”

Adults and children get in on the action in Germany. All day long, you can hear “April, April,” which is the shout of the prankster to the victim who has been fooled. Even reputable publications get in on the action. The Local recounts the authentic-sounding announcement by the Tagesspiegel, a Berlin paper, which claimed that metro station naming rights were being auctioned off… With potentially awkward consequences. Before the requests for more information became a nuisance to the paper, it admitted to the joke.

French April Fools combine their love for practical jokes with a play on words. In France, April Fools are referred to as ‘April Fish’ because, as the France Travel Guide explains, there was once a tradition of sticking paper fish – the fish is the symbol of the Spring zodiac sign Pisces – to the backs of the rural French who continued to celebrate New Year just before April 1. (The royal order of King Charles XIV, which reformed the calendar and effectively moved New Year’s Day, took a little while to make its way across the nation.) The tradition of the paper fish has survived the centuries. It is not uncommon for children to surreptitiously attach these outward signs of being had to the backs of classmates, adults, teachers and pretty much anyone around.

Why not go ahead and combine all the traditions this year? Glue a coin to the sidewalk, sneak up on the unsuspecting person trying to pick it up, attach a paper fish to her or his back and then loudly yell “April, April!”