April Fools’ Day is said to have its origins in France during the Middle Ages. As the legend goes, until the mid-16th century, the calendar started on April 1st. When French King Charles I decreed that the year would now begin on January 1st, some refused to comply, and had pranks played on them for failing to fall in line with the king’s decree. The holiday coincides with Lent, when meat was forbidden and fish was eaten instead. The pranks played on the outliers who still thought the new year should begin on April 1st would sometimes involve fake fish.
Today the French still honor the tradition of Poisson d’Avril (April Fish) as pranksters try to tape a paper fish to the backs of unsuspecting victims, who then become le poisson d’avril.
April Fool’s day in Brazil is known as o dia das mentiras, literally, the day of lies or dia dos bobos, day of fools. It is a day for brincadeiras, pranks. Brincadeira comes from the verb brincar, to play, so the nature of these pranks is playful and spirited.
April 1st became popular in Brazil after a satirical publication called A Mentira, dedicated to stories about the “ephemeral life”, wrote its first spoof news headline on April 1st, 1828, announcing the death of Don Pedro, Emperor of Brazil. The periodical lasted for quite a few years, but eventually it ran into financial difficulties. Fittingly, on its last number dated September 14th, 1894, A Mentira communicated to all its creditors where they could go to get the money they were owed. The only problem was that this too was a prank and the place at the published address did not exist.
Πρωταπριλιά (protos = first + Aprilis = April) was absorbed into Greek culture very fast. The basic idea remains the same like everywhere else: on April 1st, everyone tells innocent lies in order to trick the “victim”.
Πρωταπριλιά is so widespread that one finds different customs in different parts of Greece. In some parts, it is considered good τύχη (TEE-chee = luck) for the prank to be successful! The person who manages to trick another on Πρωταπριλιά is going to have a fortunate year, as opposed to the person who gets fooled. In Θράκη (THRA-kee = Thraki – a region in Northern Greece), Πρωταπριλιά’s rainwater is believed to be therapeutic. People collect it in bottles and pots in order to drink it when someone is sick. In Νάξος (NA-ksos = Naxos – an island in the Cyclades), they still take part in pranks, only on March 1st.
There is also an “ancient” version of Πρωταπριλιά: April 1st was the day dedicated to the Greek god Διόνυσος (DHIO-nee-sos= Dionysus) and goddess Αφροδίτη (A-FRO-dhee-tee = Aphrodite). On this particular day, Ancient Greeks were participating in pranks more “adult” in nature.
The tradition in Germany is exactly the same as it is in the US, though with a slightly bigger overall importance. On April Fool’s you play a prank (called an “Aprilscherz“) on family members, co-workers and friends – even solid lies are customarily excused on that day. Newspapers, TV and radio stations typically have at least one story which is generally harmless, but “out of this world” and completely made up. To reveal the joke, Germans say April, April: literally April, April.
However, very few people in Germany go as far as our German e-Tutor Anja. As she tells it:
I love April Fools and will play meticulously planned pranks, such as a fake White House dinner invitation from the president, a fake disinheritance letter allegedly from my father-in-law, requests to my in-laws to invest in my new chihuahua breeding business, a huge religious conversion, claims to get my alleged “cousin”, the singer Engelbert Humperdinck, to sing at my brother-in-law’s wedding, and fake calls from the Center of Disease Control concerning a TB case on a recent plane trip. I am infamous.
If you have an e-Tutoring session scheduled with Anja on April 1st, watch out.