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Celebrating April Fool's Day

Martha Stewart Living, April 2004

See Our Gallery of April Fools' Day Tricks

Prank Alert
Dear Reader: Don't let anyone else see this article. If anyone else reads it, your jokes are ruined. Worse, someone might pull them on you! Unilaterally armed with the tricks on these pages, however, you can look forward to wielding complete control of the fates of family and friends on April 1. We offer enough gags here to put everyone in an uproar. So go ahead, turn the milk blue or slip a bug into someone's slipper. This silly holiday gives you every excuse.

Before you plan your sanctioned sins, let's discuss a bit of foolish history. Some say the ancient Celts used April Fools' Day to pay tribute to Lud, their god of humor. A favorite trick was to ask an unwitting messenger to deliver a note that read "Send the fool further!" According to a more common explanation, the holiday originated in the sixteenth century when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in France, changing New Year's Day from April 1 to January 1. Traditionalists who didn't want a new NewYear's -- or happened to miss the news -- continued to celebrate the holiday on April 1. Some up-to-date French citizens took this as an opportunity to play tricks on their backward brethren, whom they dubbed poisson d'avril, or "April fish." Why fish? Because it was believed that fish that hatched in April were easy to catch. Even now, a popular prank with French schoolchildren is to stick a paper fish on someone's back so other kids can yell, "Poisson d'avril! Poisson d'avril!"

Stateside, probably owing to Americans mystified by French humor, the paper fish on one's back turned into a sign that said "Kick me." Funny, sort of. But we prefer the ideas here; they hurt less but cause just as much hilarity. By the way, that's from the Latin hilarus, for "cheerful," the only mood that guarantees survival on April Fools' Day.

Fool's Paradise
Anyone Gullible?
More Tricks to Try

Comments (2)

  • 1 Apr, 2009

    thank you for this.

  • 31 Mar, 2009

    Thank you for the history of this Insert-some-humor-into-life special day. Would much prefer the fish on my back than the "Kick me" sign.
    Would love to have the original source of the history you quote for future reference. Do you have this?