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History of April Fools’ Day

April Fools’ Day is April’s fun day here at Cornhole Worldwide! Whether you prefer jokes, pranks, unmitigated chaos or none of the above, this is a holiday that gets more interesting when you learn its historical context and origins. From updating the calendar so time could be measured more accurately, to a near-universally accepted social holiday embraced by entertainment media, corporate brands and your family members, this is how it happened.

Why Is It Called “April Fools”?

The first records of the term “April fools” being used date back to the late 1580s after France switched from the Julian calendar (which was used by the majority of the world) to the Gregorian calendar (developed under, and named for, Pope Gregory XIII). 

The Gregorian calendar changed the way leap years were counted to make the length of the year more accurate to the solar year, which is determined by how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. The Gregorian calendar also moved the beginning of the year from the April Equinox to the first of January, because the inaccurate way the Julian calendar counts leap years had, over centuries, added enough extra days to cause the spring equinox to fall much sooner than March 21; adding extra days to put the spring equinox back to where it was believed to belong moved the beginning of the year from April to January. 

This change took centuries to become accepted all over the world, but after France made the switch—twenty years after the change was mandated by the Council of Trent—they wasted no time in mercilessly ridiculing those who either hadn’t heard about the updated calendar or who dismissed its validity. 

Anyone who celebrated the beginning of the year at the usual time instead of adopting the new calendar was accused of being gullible, and their supposed gullibility was used as an excuse to play pranks on them or attempt to lure them into believing hoaxes as a test of how gullible they were. These people were often referred to as “April fools” or poisson d’avril in French (“April fish”) as an allusion to how easily they were “caught” by obvious mistruths, like continuing to follow a calendar that had been in place for centuries and newly replaced.

April Fools’ Day Through History

By the 18th century in Europe, the traditions surrounding April Fool’s had become less about making fun of people for being gullible by using the wrong calendar to make fun of people for being gullible by falling for pranks. Yes, that’s right: pranks were no longer a punishment handed out on the day, now they were the accepted form of celebrating the day.

kids-drawing-on-face In Scotland, gullible people were instructed to complete fake tasks. This was called “hunting the gowk;” gowk is a Scottish word for the cuckoo bird, which was often used as a symbol for foolishness. The gowk being hunted was anyone foolish enough to agree to undertake the obviously fake tasks (most of them were the 18th century equivalent of telling someone their car needs the blinker fluid changed). The hunt was the process of asking someone to complete a task and see if they agreed: if they did, they were a fool, and the hunters laughed at them; if they didn’t, everyone had a laugh about the holiday.

Since 1973, April Fools’ Day is celebrated in Ukraine with a festival that involves street fairs, free concerts, performances, and a parade in the city center. People dress in costume and walk around the city playing pranks and fooling others. It’s also tradition to dress up city monuments in funny clothes.

South American countries celebrate a holiday on April 1 called Dia da Mentira, which translates to “Lie Day.” Traditionally, this holiday is celebrated by trying to fool one’s loved ones in humous ways that focus on comedic jokes that will also be enjoyed by the target rather than mean-spirited jokes intended to embarrass the target.

In more recent times, many publications have written fake news stories and published them as if they were real on April 1 (there’s usually a note at the end of the story revealing the joke). News shows have—both knowingly and unknowingly—ran stories that turned out to be April Fools’ Day Pranks, and companies have released press releases about business decisions later revealed to be pranks.

This then migrated online to prank and joke videos being posted, fake products being listed on retail sites and Google’s annual April Fools’ Day prank, which is always available during the day on its homepage.

Classic Pranks for a Fun April Fools’ Day!

  • Un-organize the kitchen by swapping two or more kitchen drawers. Opening the silverware drawer to find the kitchen gadgets in their place will cause a moment of disorientation and is easy to put back how it was while everyone is laughing.
  • Hide a (clean) fake plastic bug, spider or snake in the canister of instant oatmeal or a box of cereal. Put it on top for the person who gets up first to find or push it further down for a more delayed and random scare—just remember to retrieve it if no one finds it that day (or leave it and celebrate April Fools’ Day late!).
  • If your workplace is April Fools’-friendly, write “See me ASAP” on a sticky note, scribble an illegible signature and stick it on a coworker’s desk or monitor. Then sit back and watch them try to figure out who left the note and what the situation is! Make sure to choose your target carefully, the most important part being that they need to be someone who will think this is funny, and be nearby to rescue them if they seem genuinely worried.
  • Speaking of sticky notes and work pranks: a sticky note stuck over the laser on the bottom of an optical mouse will disable the mouse from moving until it comes off. (And that’s all we’re saying!)

Share your favorite April Fools’ Day prank in the comments, and if all this April Fool’s talk has put you in the mood for something fun to do with friends, contact us to get started designing your perfect custom Cornhole set today!

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