A joke can easily be lost in translation, but the idea of a lighthearted springtime holiday is surprisingly universal.
What Americans know as April Fools’ Day (sometimes referred to as All Fools’ Day) is observed the world over. Though historical evidence is ambiguous, most believe that when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in the late 1500s, the New Year was moved from April 1 to January 1. Those who kept to the old tradition and the old date were labeled fools, hence the association. But no two celebrations are quite the same:
France – The holiday here is known as Poisson d’Avril, which translates to April Fish, and is also celebrated in Italy as Pesce d’Aprile. Traditionally, schoolchildren will tape a picture of a fish on the back of an unsuspecting classmate and wait for the transgression to be discovered.
Scotland – Scottish folks enjoy “taking the piss” out of their comrades so much that they’ve extended the holiday into a second day. April 1 was traditionally Hunt the Gowk day, although the name is fading out. Gowk means cuckoo, and sending a mate on a fool’s errand is the name of the game: you should ask someone to deliver a sealed message asking for help, the contents of which instruct the recipient to pass it along and continue the chain. The second day is known as Taily Day, which seems to have spawned the infamous “Kick Me” sign, and numerous posterior jokes.
Iran – The 13th day of the Persian New Year is called Sizdah Bedar, and usually falls on April 1 or April 2. Pranks have reportedly been played on this holiday since 536 BC, making it perhaps the oldest known joke day. It’s customary to spend the afternoon outside, celebrating the new season and indulging in food, laughter, games, and good-natured jokes. After a picnic, you throw away green vegetables, known as sabzeh, which represent any potential illnesses or bad luck for the coming year.
Spain – December 28, Holy Innocents’ Day or Childermas, is also celebrated in Latin America. Though it technically is a Christian feast day, the pranking tradition that it’s now known for is strictly a cultural invention. Victims are instructed not to be upset because the jokesters are, well, innocent.
Portugal – The Sunday and Monday prior to Lent is when the Portuguese celebrate April Fools’, and they have embraced one prank as their own: throwing flour on someone.
India – India’s Holi festival is celebrated on March 31, and is a day to play jokes, toss colored dust and wear face and body paint to inaugurate spring.
Denmark – May 1 is Maj-kat (May cat), a joke day, although here and in Sweden they also celebrate April 1 as April Fools’ Day. Perhaps at the end of a long winter, Scandinavians are doubly ready to let loose and herald spring.