Surely you jest: April Fools’ Day jokes around the world

It’s said laughter is the best medicine, and it’s no surprise to see this edict is shared across dozens of cultures—otherwise why would April Fools’ Day be such a popular celebration across the world? Traditions vary by culture, but no matter where you travel, there’s something to tickle someone’s funny bone everywhere, including:

United Kingdom
It’s no surprise that from the land of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales comes some of the most mirthful humor. In fact, his epic contains the first recorded association of playing tricks on one’s neighbors and friends on April 1. In Scotland and Ireland, the title “April Fools’” is a corruption of terms for birds, otherwise called “cuckoos,” and here the traditional prank is to deliver a sealed message requesting help. The person receiving it traditionally says he can only help if he contacts another person, and sends the sender to the next person, with the same result.

Norwegians, Icelanders and most other Scandinavian countries celebrate April 1 with at least one false news story, even taking up much of the front page of leading newspapers. One of the first published jokes in Iceland included a story about a flying bus to transport travelers from the capital, Reykjavik, to the town of Akranes. A false Norwegian news story once reported a 10% rebate on taxes if citizens refiled returns due to a technical error.

As a continent with strong colonial ties, it’s no surprise India celebrates April Fools’ Day traditions like its European counterparts, but other fantastical takeoffs now include Bollywood cinematic extravaganzas like the film “April Fool”; its protagonist comes from a wealthy family but is a slacker who likes to play practical jokes, which leads to him meeting his love interest. Its title song is often played on the radio on April 1.

Celebrated on the final days before Lent begins, Portugal does April Fools’ like any other European country… except for one caveat. In addition to the usual playful pranks, it is an April 1 custom to throw flour at one another.

France & beyond
In Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Italy, April 1 is traditionally known as “April fish,” which includes attempts to attach paper fish to people’s backs without the person attaching them being noticed. Many French postcards from the 19th and 20th centuries include references to this tradition. Like Scandinavia, newspapers also often feature false holiday stories. While it is unclear why fish became synonymous with April Fools’ in this region, one common theory is the correlation to the date’s zodiac sign, Pisces.