What Is An April Fool?

You’ll need to understand English culture if you want to become fluent in English so I’m writing cultural lessons such as, what is an April fool and how to write a poem for your Valentine.

This lesson teaches you about the history of April Fools’ Day, gives examples of some of the best jokes ever and helps you plan your own April Fools’ Day prank. Remember to say, “April Fool” when you are ready to announce that you have tricked someone on April 1st this year. If you have any questions, please email Steve@englishteacheronline.org or leave a comment at the end.

When Did April Fools Begin?

The origin of April Fools’ Day probably dates back to the late sixteenth century when the Gregorian calendar was introduced into France. Before 1582, the Julian calendar was used and April 1st was traditionally New Year’s Day.

Some people were slow to use the Gregorian calendar and didn’t realize that New Year’s Day had been moved to January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate it on April 1st became the butt of jokes and hoaxes, such as having a paper fish placed on their backs and being called “poisson d’avril,” April fish. (The April fish symbolizes a gullible person as a young easily caught fish.)

April Fools’ Day has links to the ancient festival of Hilaria, when Romans would dress up in disguises. It is also around the time of the vernal equinox (first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere) when Mother Nature is said to have fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.

How Did It Grow So Big?

April Fools’ Day took off in Britain during the eighteenth century and in Scotland turned into a two-day event. The hunting of the gowk (cuckoo bird) started on April 1st with people being sent off on fake errands. Tailie Day followed on April 2nd when people would pin a tail or “kick me” sign on unsuspecting fools.

Through the years many elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes have emerged. Newspapers, radio, television and websites have all participated in bizarre hoaxes to fool their audiences.

World Famous Spaghetti Tree Prank 1957

One of the most famous hoaxes of all time is probably the Swiss Spaghetti harvest of 1957. The highly respected BBC documentary show Panorama produced a program claiming that Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti harvest. The footage of farmers harvesting their “spaghetti trees” fooled huge numbers of TV viewers.


Tower of Pisa Falling Over 1960 

Dutch news reported that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was actually falling down in 1960. It caused worldwide shock until everyone realized it was April 1st again!

San Serriffe Nation Prank 1977

One of my favourite pranks is San Serriffe in 1977, when a seven-page supplement appeared in the Guardian newspaper. It described the small republic nation of San Serriffe, several semi-colon-shaped islands in the Indian Ocean. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital city was Bodoni while its leader was reported to be General Pica. Only a few people noticed that everything about the island nation was named after printing expressions. The Guardian was busy all day with readers seeking more information about the sunny holiday destination. The success of this hoax is said to have launched the love of April Fools’ Day in the British tabloid press.

Penguins Learn To Fly 2008

In 2008, the BBC produced another amazing hoax claiming that penguins had become bored with the cold Antarctic winter and had evolved the power of flight. Their video showed flying penguins migrating thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America. A second video later revealed how the hoax was made.


Confusion Over the Fools’ Fool

In 2016, the French news agency AFP wrote that the Chinese government had banned April Fool’s Day in China. Apparently, Chinese media claimed it did not conform to China’s cultural traditions nor core values of socialism. It asked people not to believe, create nor spread rumours. The article finished with a smiley emoticon. For many people the fun of April Fools’ Day is trying to figure out real news from all the hoaxes.

Pranks We Can All Do

This year I was inspired by Bored Panda’s funny April Fool pranks. My favourite is to plant a grass garden in your co-worker’s keyboard. It works best if your boss has some new keyboards that she is planning to replace in the office.

Split the top off the old keyboard and carefully fill the bottom with a shallow amount of water. Scatter about 100 grass seeds in the water and replace the top of the keyboard. In a warm dark space, the seeds should sprout quickly. If you are concerned that your co-worker will notice, you could use a spare keyboard to grow the seeds and switch it at the last moment or night before.

When you reveal the joke, remember to say “April Fool” – it’s the traditional way of taking credit for the prank.

So what will you do this April Fool’s Day? Try to keep it safe and respectful but please have fun too. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section.

Are you ready to practice what you’ve learnt with a native English teacher?