April Fools' Day this year is on Saturday, April 1st and is traditionally a day for hoaxes and practical jokes to be played on one another. But how did it originate?

In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio, TV stations and websites have participated in the April 1st tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences. Young apprentices were often told to go and buy a ‘glass hammer’ or something equally ridiculous, before realising they had been pranked.

They say laughter is the best medicine, but not always for the one who is the brunt of the joke! If you’re like me, you prefer to spend April Fools’ Day hiding from everyone in order to avoid the inevitable embarrassment this day brings—but this doesn’t mean you can’t have a few laughs on your own. April Fools’ jokes can be hilarious and at the expense of anyone.

There are endless jokes to be pulled. I won’t go into too much detail on some of the ones I found because I don’t want any fingers pointed at me, but I liked this one that would suit anyone. Take a tube of those black cookies with the white cream filling, and carefully scrape the cream out (eating it is optional) and replacing the cream with mint toothpaste, then putting the cookies carefully back together again. Stand back and see who is the first one your office maybe to take the first from the open packet left on the filing cabinet, or from the biscuit box if you have a notorious cookie stealer in your household.

Spaghetti harvest

One of the most famous April Fools' Day pranks of all time is the BBC’s famous ‘spaghetti harvest’ segment. On April 1st , 1957, a news broadcaster told his British audience that Ticino, a Swiss region near the Italian border, had had ‘an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop’ that year. The camera showed footage of people picking spaghetti from trees and bushes, then sitting down to eat some of their ‘real, home-grown spaghetti.’

Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. In the Julian Calendar, as in the Hindu calendar, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1st. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognise that the start of the new year had moved to January 1st and continued to celebrate it on April 1st became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called ‘April Fools’. These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as ‘poisson d’avril’ (April fish), said to represent a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

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.

There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with ‘hunting the gowk,’ (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool), in which people were sent on phony errands and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or ‘kick me’ signs on them. Portugual has April Fools too, but on the Sunday and Monday before Lent, playing pranks and throwing flour on others (which is better than having a fish stuck on your backside I suppose).

Pranksters often unmask their jokes by gleefully yelling ‘April Fool’ at their victim. This custom has been observed for hundreds of years, and no doubt I will one of the gullible ones – yet again.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan