April Fool's Traditions in Europe

April 1st is around the corner, so be on your guard if you don’t wish to fall victim to any April Fool pranks. There are so many different versions on how April Fool’s day came about, depending on the historical period and which nationality you’re basing your research on. Anyway, take them all with a pinch of salt and it can be humorous.

In Europe, it is generally believed that April Fool’s Day originated from France, since France was the first country to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar established by the Council of Trent in 1563. This meant that New Year celebrations was moved from the end of March to January 1st. This occurred during the reign of Charles IX. According to the French and Dutch references, they too regard the date of April 1st to be the April Fool’s Day. In France, this is known as Poisson d’Avril. The zodiac sign for April is a ‘Fish’ and is believed to be caught easily.

Before the year 1582, the New Year was celebrated over an eight day period, beginning from March 25th and ending on April 1st. April 1st is primarily the day when people celebrate the arrival of Spring. This changed during the Georgian rule where a new calendar was introduced and New Year was moved to 1st January. Those who stuck stubbornly to their old tradition and who didn’t make the change were thought to be a backward class and the local populace referred to them as the ‘fools’. They were often subjected to ridicule and fools’ errands.

British folklore has a charming tale that links April Fool’s Day to the town of Gotham, the legendary town of fools located in Nottinghamshire. As the legend goes, it was traditional in the 13th century, that any road travelled upon by the King to subsequently become public property. The citizens of Gotham, had no intention of losing their main road, and started to spread a false story to stop King John from passing through their town. When the King learned of their deception, he dispatched a messenger to demand an explanation of the town’s actions. But when the messenger arrived in Gotham he found the town was full of lunatics who were engaged in foolish activities such as drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in roofless fences (though, of course, their foolery was put on). The King fell for the ruse and declared the town too foolish to warrant punishment. And ever since then, April Fool’s Day has supposedly commemorated their trickery.

In Scotland, the custom of harassing friends is known as ‘hunting the gawk’ or the cuckoo. The Scots celebrate the April Fools’ Day for forty-eight hours. The second day is called ‘Taily’, symbolized by the ‘kick me’ sign. So, if you’re going to be Scotland next Tuesday, watch out for ‘kick me’ signs being attached to your derriere.

So wherever you are, don’t be the bunny! We will be on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge where safety rules are so rigid that there’s no chance of any pranks!


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