IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What is the origin of April Fools' Day? Here's why we pull pranks

Find out more about the hijinks-filled history of the holiday.

Each year, the first day of April brings pranks, laughter, and trust issues.

Some people eagerly anticipate the April holiday, while others simply hope to avoid becoming the butt of the joke.

Even your closest friends and family fall under suspicion when they not-so-innocently offer you a snack or invite you to sit down.

As hard as you try to dodge your loved ones' tricks, you may still find yourself hoodwinked by classic pranks like a rubber snake in your desk drawer or a whoopee cushion under your seat cushion.

Though this holiday isn't everyone's cup of tea, you can't help but be impressed at some of the elaborate practical jokes that people dream up.

Whether you’re a gleeful trickster or a hapless victim, you may have wondered how this prank-pulling tradition began in the first place.

Here's everything you need to know about the history of April Fools' Day and why we love pranks.

April Fools’ Day origins

The actual origin of April Fools’ Day is somewhat murky.

An article published by the Library of Congress notes that the first official reference to the devious holiday comes from a 1561 poem by Eduard De Dene, a Flemish poet who writes about how much fun it is to send his servant on a series of unnecessary tasks, which you might recognize as the origin of the term “fools errands.”

Nearly 500 years later, similar behaviors are outlined in a 1902 Akron, Ohio, newspaper article as a popular way to celebrate April 1.

“What strikes me is the fact that you’ve got these traditions in Ireland, in Scotland, in France. It’s an official holiday in the Ukraine. How did the concept of April Fools’ expand to these different countries?” Weiner says. “That’s the true mystery.”

Regardless, it’s clear we’ve been pulling pranks on our unsuspecting peers for centuries and while, yes, they’re often at someone else’s expense, we still can’t seem to help ourselves.

Even corporate giants like Taco Bell have gotten in on the gag, fooling the public back in 1996 with false claims of having purchased the Liberty Bell. Or PayPal, who once tweeted they were adding a new feature that would allow customers to print money from their mobile devices.

And there have been plenty of others, including the BBC who told gullible citizens in a faux news segment that the Swiss had harvested spaghetti from trees. A couple decades later, they claimed that London’s Big Ben was turning digital.

On a less humorous note, there have been several unfortunate instances in which important news released on April 1 has been dismissed as a hoax.

Why do we pull pranks?

“We all have an innate desire to be mischievous. It’s part of our human nature,” Rob Weiner, pop culture librarian at Texas Tech University, tells “April Fools’ Day gives a way to play a prank on someone or a joke without doing too much harm.”

While they might not be harmful, not everyone appreciates being the butt of a joke. According to a 2021 YouGov poll, 47 percent of the American asked said that they found practical jokes annoying, while 45 percent said they were funny.

Unsurprisingly, most of the respondents preferred being the prankster rather than having jokes played at their expense.

“The underlying theme of it is to trick you, perhaps humiliate you or embarrass you,” Wayne Federman, comedian and professor at the University of Southern California, tells

Depending on the prank, this can be pretty amusing to the perpetrator — but not so much the victim.

“There’s a basic element of just lying to someone,” Federman tells, adding that it’s human nature to trust someone’s words so we feel silly when we’ve been fooled, which is the opposite of what an actual joke is meant to do.

This April Fool's Day, remember that the best pranks are created with both cleverness and kindness.

"To me, the best high-level practical jokes are the ones where the person who's being pranked or tricked is so delighted at the level of expertise that went into creating the prank that they laugh at it with you ... you got me, this is incredible," Federman says.