The joke’s on you: The history behind April Fool’s Day

In this illustration dating back to 1826, this gentleman wasn't pleased with an April Fool's Day prank. Unattributed pen and ink sketch from Hone's Table Book

We’ve probably all fallen prey to an April Fool’s Day joke at some point in our lives. Some people may find the jokes fun or tedious, but there’s no getting away from them.

The origins behind the day are a little sketchy.

READ MORE: Groundhog Day—Why we carry on with the tradition

Some historians believe that it started back in 1582. That year France moved from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian. However, not everyone got the memo. So those poor saps — who didn’t realize that the new year had moved to January 1 — continued to celebrate it during the end of March to April 1. People mocked them and even put fish on their backs calling them “poisson d’avril” or April fish, meaning they were easily caught (as young fish are).

WATCH: How companies tried to cash in on April Fool’s pranks (2015)

Then there are others who believe that it got its start even farther back, into Roman times, called Hilaria, when people would dress up in disguises.

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Whatever the roots for the day, it seemed to catch on in Britain in the 18th century. In Scotland, people would participate in the event, which took place over two days, rather than just one. They would be sent on fake errands and even have signs put on their backs (maybe that’s how the whole “Kick me!” thing started).

There have been plenty of modern-day pranks. Even news organizations and large companies like WestJet and Google have taken part. There have been selfie sticks that attach to your shoe, WestJet’s Smart Seats that go from the terminal to your plane, and even a Honda HR-V SLF which provided “hands-free selfie technology” with 10 selfie cameras in the car.

But the first done by a news organization — and perhaps the best — was BBC in 1957. During its news program Panorama, it aired a three-minute segment about spaghetti harvest.

WATCH: BBC—The Spaghetti Harvest

Perhaps one of the origins most relevant to Canadians is this one: that it is tied to the first day of spring — the vernal equinox — when Mother Nature fooled people with her unpredictable weather.

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What is the craziest April Fool’s Day prank you’ve ever seen or done to someone? Let us know in the comments below.

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