April Fools’ Day has its share of origin stories. Trouble is, no one knows which is true and which are, well, malarkey.
Here’s one that we like: For centuries, the ancient Roman Empire ran on the Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar. Back then, New Year’s Day was recognized as April 1. In 1592, Pope Gregory VIII declared a new way to mark the passage of time. His Gregorian calendar declared that the new year would begin on January 1. Anyone who fell “behind the times,” so to speak, and continued to celebrate New Year’s on April 1 was considered a fool.
Don’t believe it? Well, your skepticism might serve you well as we share below April Fool’s traditions around the globe, courtesy of VBT’s in-the-know trip leaders. But be warned – one of them attempted to play us for a fool. Can you identify the one that’s pure nonsense?
In France: A Fish Story
France trip leader Jean-Marc Lafleur tells us about the French tradition known as Poisson d’Avril or April’s Fish. Each year, he said, “The small kids in school draw fish on sheets of paper and then stick them to someone’s back for fun.”
Why fish? “The fish symbolizes the end of the fast before Easter,” Jean-Marc explains.
Whether one fish carries any meaning versus another is unclear. One might be a caricature of its intended recipient. Another might simply be a child’s artistic interpretation of most any marine creature. And, most importantly, anyone can be targeted for a slap on the back, from a classmate to a teacher. You can imagine “schools of fish” wandering the halls and the grounds of educational institutions all over France!
In Vietnam: A Baby Prank
In Vietnam, April Fool’s Day can get passionate, says trip leader Nguyễn Tiến Đạt, known as “Đạt” to VBT guests. Though she acknowledges that the day is more of a western tradition than an eastern indulgence, the young people of her country nonetheless enjoy playing the fool’s game – albeit with higher stakes.
Teens and people in their 20s might use the occasion to coyly flirt with each other. “People say ‘I love you!’” she tells us. That sounds like a tradition we can all get behind! But some young women prank their boyfriends by telling them they’re pregnant – either by announcing it in person or by posting it on Facebook.
Đạt likes the April Fool’s tradition, but she knows it can get out of hand. “The young people sometimes have bad judgment. They make up stories that leave bad feelings.”
In Italy: Culinary Tall Tales
Italians can always count on hearing a story about their beloved cuisine on April Fool’s Day. Residents in the smallest villages and the largest cities wait to hear the latest tall tale. “One year,” says trip leader Paolo, “someone started a rumor that our pastas were imported from China.” Some restauranteurs took it very personally. “They were insulted by the idea that the pasta they made with their own hands came from anywhere but their own kitchen.”
The country’s famous wine has also been the target of pranksters. One newspaper published a story that the entire crop of 2015 grapes had gone bad because of a fungus. “There was panic!” Paolo says.
In Slovenia: Foolish Fairy Tales
Things can take a fantastical turn in Slovenia, fitting for a nation of magical alpine vistas and pastoral landscapes. Trip leader Ajda Ožbolt tells us. “It’s a day on which you try to sell a harmless lie.” Some of them might even be made from the stuff of children’s storybooks. She gives us an example: “You know what happened this morning on my way to work? An ostrich on a bicycle passed me by!”
Of course, the lie has to be more believable in order to fool gullible listeners. “Personally,” she says, “I would like the wildest and most insane April Fool’s lies to come true – that pollution has ended and that corrupt politicians have disappeared!” Those are easy to believe, right?
In Ireland: The Early Bird Gets the Fool
In Ireland, the prankster could easily become the pranked if he’s not keeping an eye on the time. No one knows why, but in the Land of Eire, you have to deliver your joke before noon, or the joke’s on you. “Yes, the more elaborate the hoax, the earlier we have to wake up!” jokes one of our trip leaders.
Pranks have also been a national affair. Not long ago, you were wise to stay off the roads on April Fool’s Day, thanks to the annual widespread rumors that everyone had to start driving on the right side of the road. Talk about a scary joke!
One of our trip leaders above was playing us for a fool. Can you guess which one?
Answer: Italy! We don’t think Italians would ever joke about their unrivaled food and wine, the pride of the nation, do you?