Playing practical jokes on your friends and colleagues is something that has universal appeal. Other countries might not call their nationally acknowledged day of pranks April Fool’s Day—or even celebrate it on April 1st—but the idea is still the same. Here are six hijinks-filled holidays from around the globe.
1. Poisson d’Avril // France
The most widely believed origin story for the American April Fool’s Day places the holiday’s start in France. In 1564, King Charles IX observed that various regions of France started their calendars on different days, often March 25th. To standardize his nation, he mandated that the new year would start on January 1st for the entire country. If the news of this change didn’t reach you in time, you might still have been celebrating the week leading up to April as the start of the new year—leaving you vulnerable to mocking by those in the know. The most popular prank, in the 16th century and now, is to stick a paper fish on someone’s back, rendering him an “April Fish” (hence the holiday’s French name). A version of the holiday is also celebrated in Italy, where it is known as Il Pesce d’Aprile.
But recent research has found a Dutch poem from 1561 (three years before the calendar change) that describes a master sending his servant on a “fool’s errand” on April 1st, indicating that the practice might be older than originally believed.
2. Huntigowk Day and Taily Day // Scotland
In Scotland, the start of April is marked by not one, but two days of prank-pulling and foolery. To “hunt the gowk”—a gowk being a “cuckoo,” or gullible person—you send your friend on a mission to deliver a sealed letter. When the recipient opens it, they will find a note saying “Dinna laugh, Dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient then sends the poor messenger to deliver the note to someone else.
In some parts of Scotland, Huntigowk Day is followed by Taily Day, when pranks are focused on the posterior. The challenge was to pin a piece of paper to someone else’s backside, sometimes with phrases such as “Kick me hard for I am soft.” This is possibly the origin of the classic “Kick Me” sign. And on April 3rd in Kirkcaldy, they used to then try and pin on a long tail, which they would then set on fire.
3. Sizdah Bedar // Iran
This traditional Persian festival is celebrated on the 13th day of Farvardin, the first month in the Iranian calendar, which generally falls on April 1st or 2nd. The holiday marks the end of Nowruz, a festival celebrating the beginning of spring. On Sizdah Bedar, families spend the day out of doors picnicking and playing games, and throw sabzeh, green sprouts or vegetables, into lakes or rivers to rid oneself of potential illnesses or bad luck for the coming year. Although not the primary focus of the holiday, people pull pranks and tell white lies known as “thirteenth lies” on this day, which might earn Sizdah Bedar the distinction of being the oldest prank tradition in the world. They proliferation of joke-playing on Sizdah Bedar could also have stemmed from the holiday’s extreme calendar proximity and pretty close cultural proximity to April Fool’s Day.
4. Maj-kat // Denmark
The Danes double down on their practical joking each year. Not only do they celebrate April Fool’s Day on April 1 just like we do in the States, they also have an identical holiday just a month later. May 1 is known as Maj-kat, and it is celebrated just as April Fool’s Day is, with pranks and practical jokes.
5. Holy Innocents’ Day or Childermas // Spain and Latin America
Celebrated on December 28, this traditionally Christian holiday has grim origins: It’s meant to commemorate the day King Herod learned of Jesus’s birth and ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed. Despite that grizzly genesis, the holiday is now celebrated much like April Fool’s. Young children rule the day, playing pranks on their elders and calling out “Innocente!” instead of “April Fool’s!”
6. Holi Festival // India
This Hindu festival marking the coming of spring, held in late March, is characterized by an abundance of color. Participants sing and dance while tossing colored powder and water onto one another. Holi honors the god Krishna, who was renowned as a youngster for his mischievous pranks, so revelers add to Holi’s general merriment by reenacting some of his more famous pranks.