April Fools’ Day is one of those holidays that’s been celebrated for so long, we don’t really know how or when it actually started. There are theories, of course, the main one being that it originated after the Western world made the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian in the 1500s. In the Julian calendar, the new year began around the time of April 1st, and those who weren’t aware of the switch were promptly mocked and pranked by those who were—the original “April Fools.”
Regardless of where or how the holiday took shape, April Fools’ Day is now celebrated wherever people love to make jokes—so, everywhere. Of all the countries that April Fool, these nine have the most original traditions.
In France, the first of April is affectionately known as Le Poisson d’Avril, which literally translates to April Fish. When they’re not indulging in chocolaterie buissière—chocolate figurines, usually shaped like the nominal fish—the French tape paper fish to each other’s backs and shout “Poisson d’Avril” at those whom they’ve successfully duped.
After you manage to fool someone on April Fools’ Day, the Finnish custom is to shout “Aprillia, syö silliä, juo kuravettä päälle,” which translates to “April trick, eat herring, drink muddy water afterwards!” If you ask a Finnish person, they’ll admit it doesn’t make sense to them either.
The 13th day of the Persian New Year always overlaps with either the 1st or 2nd of April, and is celebrated as Sidzah-Bedar, or Nature Day, in Iran. It’s also the last day of the New Year’s festivities and is typically spent outside picnicking with friends and throwing leafy greens into a body of water to ward off bad luck. Even though it may or may not be directly related to the Western April Fools’ Day, it’s considered a prank day in its own right as it’s traditional to tell little white lies called “thirteenth lies.”
The way Italians celebrate April Fools’ is almost identical to how the French celebrate it. Called Pesce d’Aprile (again, April Fish), its name is the same and so is its tradition of taping paper fish to the backs of unsuspecting victims. Italian newspapers, companies, and even the government have long enjoyed partaking in the festivities, and one of the more famous April Fools’ pranks was conducted in 1956 by Milan’s newspaper La Notte, when it falsely reported that city officials had made it illegal to ride horses unless they were outfitted with brake lights.
As in Finland, there aren’t many Dutch April Fools’ traditions, save for shouting, “1 april, kikker in je bil, die er nooit meer uit wil,” at your victim. That translates to “1st of April, frog in your butt, that never wants to come out again.”
If you manage to trick someone in Greece, it’s thought that their misfortune will become your good luck, so there’s a real incentive to do some pranking. And if it rains, grab a bucket, because the water is said to have healing powers on April Fools’ Day. Similar to Italy, the Greek government also enjoys doling out the occasional prank, and in 1982 the state-controlled national radio network jokingly broadcasted that pollution in Athens had reached emergency levels. The prank took a not-so-funny turn when residents began to flee the city because they’d taken the announcement seriously; the director of the network was later forced to resign—surprising, considering the good luck you’d think he’d have after fooling so many people.
Both the 1st and the 2nd of April are celebrated in Scotland, known as Hunt the Gowk Day and Taily Day, respectively. In olden times, Scots celebrated Hunt the Gowk Day by sending a “gowk,” or a fool, to deliver a sealed message, the contents of which would read, “Dinna laugh an dinna smile, hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient would then send the gowk on another errand with the same message, and so on until the gowk (hopefully) caught onto the joke. While that ruthless tradition didn’t last, many people still paste “kick me” signs to their victims, a pastime that originated on Taily Day.
You’re only supposed to tell jokes and make pranks until noon on April Fools’ Day in England. It’s not entirely clear how the rule came to be, but if you do tell jokes after noon, be warned: You will be considered a fool. And if you’ve been successfully fooled before noon, you’ll be considered a “noodle.”
Before April Fools’ Day officially arrived in Russia, Slavic people would celebrate the warm weather around the same time by scaring away winter with costumes and disguises. Now, the holiday is hugely popular and jokes are taken very seriously. Many concerts and comedy shows are scheduled for the holiday to guarantee everyone gets in on the laughs.