If, by chance, you are in Italy on the first day of April, pay attention to your back! Someone could stick a paper fish on your shoulder, making other people laugh at you while you keep on walking being totally unaware of what’s going on.
When the joke is eventually discovered, the one(s) who organized it will probably shout “Pesce d’aprile!” (April fish!), the common expression used to describe this kind of trick.
Not only in Italy…
The tradition of planning jokes for April 1st is not something exclusively Italian, but it is quite spread in other countries of the world. Paper fish, for instance, are popular also in France: to be precise, the expression pesce d’aprile comes from the French poisson d’avril.
In UK and US April 1st is called April Fools’ Day, with a plain allusion to the medieval character of the fool, the court’s jester: every joke is fair!
In Scotland, the tricks’ carousel lasts for two days: the second one is the so-called Taily day and it is devoted to jokes about…buttocks! As, for instance, the one of sticking a paper with the writing “kick me there!” to your friend’s shoulders.
There are no certainties about the origins of these habits, which are somehow linked, but it is quite sure that we should go back to very old times. In the Canterbury Tales already, there is a reference to this date as a day of foolishness and at the beginning of sixteenth century a French poet used the expression poisson d’avril.
Many linked April Fools’ Day to the fact that, before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, New Year’s day was celebrated by a lot of cultures between March 25th and April 1st.
According to the English name of the day, though, an analogy has been suggested with the medieval tradition of the Feast of Fools, celebrated in December and inspired by the Latin Saturnalia.
Some jokes played by mass media are just a piece of history. In 1878, «Gazzetta d’Italia» (Italian Gazette) published breaking news: apparently, an Indian maharajah was supposed to be cremated in Florence.
The famous and serious BBC is well-known for its April-1st-enthusiasm: in 1957 they broadcast a fake report from Switzerland about spaghetti trees (!) and a few years ago they pre-announced a documentary about a new species of flying penguins.
We cannot forget Chippy: back in the 80’s, an English TV channel presented a special walkman named Chippy, with a chip inside allowing you to store hundreds of songs. Just a joke or pure prediction?
Sometimes, even real news published on April 1st has been considered as jokes: for instance, in 2004 a lot of people were totally convinced that Gmail’s launch was an… April fish!