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

Take a look at the history of the high jinks-filled holiday.

Love it or hate it, there's no avoiding tomfoolery on April 1.

A day devoted to deception and pranks, April Fools' Day encourages the tricksters among us to dream up clever ways to pull a fast one over the gullible.

If you've never been a victim, chances are pretty good it's only a matter of time before you are because, let's face it, even the best of us get hoodwinked every now and again.

Whether you're the perp or the prey, you might be curious about April Fools' Day origins and the meaning behind all this intentional mischief.

We were too, which is why we did some digging to figure out why people around the world celebrate the first day of April by playing jokes on unsuspecting friends, family and colleagues.

“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.

Given that there’s an undercurrent of mean-spiritedness at the heart of practical jokes, why do we play them in first place? And why on April 1 specifically?

Here’s what to know about how the April holiday got its start.

April Fools' Day origins

The actual origin of April Fools' Day is somewhat murky, but appears to have begun centuries ago.

According to The Museum of Hoaxes website, one popular theory dates back to the 16th-century France when the French changed their calendar, moving the start of the new year from March to January 1.

Refusing to embrace the new calendar, staunch supporters of the old system were mocked for their unwillingness to accept progress and were the butt of pranks as a result of their stodginess.

Another account suggests that April Fools' Day is a descendant of the "Hilaria" festival, an ancient Roman celebration held annually on March 25 to celebrate the spring equinox and the goddess Cybele.

While both are possible, neither are definitive.

In fact, 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.

"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.