April Fools Day is ‘celebrated’ in many countries across the world. In the UK, Australia and South Africa, the jokes only last until noon. If someone plays a trick after noon they are called the April Fool. In other countries that celebrate April Fools the tricks go on all day, so beware expats, and act according to which country you’re living in—be fooled or be the fool.
The history of April Fools Day is unclear but the earliest recorded suggestion of an April Fools Day can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392). It is often suggested that the restoration of January 1 as New Year’s Day in the 16th century was responsible for the creation of the holiday, but this theory does not explain earlier references.
In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two, (which readers took to mean April 1) when the vain cock Chauntecler is tricked by a fox. Besides Chaucer, other mentions of this day appear, for example in France, a poet wrote about a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally “April fish”), a possible reference to the holiday in 1508.
The reference to the suggestion that April Fools Day was begun as a result of the restoration of January 1 as New Years Day on the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar. Previously, New Years Day was celebrated on Mach 25 across Europe. In some areas the New Years celebrations lasted a week, ending on April 1. Perhaps those that began to celebrate on January 1 began making fun of those who celebrated on April 1, calling them fools who were still believing the old calendar. January 1 was officially declared New Years Day in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.
In the past, national newspapers, TV and radio would all provide a prank or two on the public who either forgot the date or were trusting enough to believe what the media tells them. One of the most famous hoaxes in Britain was the BBC Spaghetti tree news piece. The television programme Panorama ran an episode in 1957, showing Italians harvesting spaghetti from trees. The reporter was announcing that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. Many people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees.