April Fool’s Day – Helen Morgan looks at how the tradition of playing pranks on April 1st began.


April Fool’s Day, also known as Fool’s Day; the custom of people playing tricks on each other has been observed in many countries for hundreds of years but its origins are unknown. The word ‘fool’ originally meant a clown or a court jester but later became the word for a stupid person.

Some historians claim that April Fool’s Day dates back to 1582 when France changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar; the modified calendar introduced by Pope Gregory Xlll in that year. People who were slow to receive the news or failed to recognise that the beginning of the year had moved from the end of March to January 1st and continued to celebrate it on the old date became the butt of many jokes and pranks.

One of these pranks was having a paper fish stuck to their backs and being referred to as poisson d’avril (April fish) which symbolized a young easily hooked fish and a naïve person.

On April 1st, 1700, English pranksters began to popularise the annual tradition of April Fool’s Day by playing practical jokes on each other. The tradition soon spread throughout Britain during the rest of the 18th century.

In Scotland it became a two-day event starting with ‘hunting the gowk’ in which people were sent on deceptive errands and followed by ‘Tallie Day’, which involved pranks played on somebody’s rear end such as pinning a fake tail or sticking a ‘kick me’ sign to their trousers. A symbol of a fool in Scotland is a ‘gowk’ which translates as a cuckoo.
In 1749, London newspapers advertised an upcoming show which featured a man squeezing his entire body into a wine bottle and singing inside of it. It later transpired that the advert was the result of a wager between the Duke of Portland and the Earl of Chesterfield.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own