Why do we celebrate April Fools' Day?

April Fools' Day. (Getty Images)
What are you planning for this year's April Fools' Day? (Getty Images)

Whether you’re tentatively sipping your tea or stealthily tiptoeing around every corner, you can be forgiven for feeling a bit cautious on April Fools' Day.

Every year on 1 April people from all over the world compete to play practical jokes on one another – a rather unusual annual celebration if you think about it.

But while nobody knows exactly where the quirky event originated from, there are multiple theories that certainly help to put pieces of the puzzle together.

In earlier centuries, the practical jokes were aimed mainly at children but of course nowadays, everybody gets in on the action.

Read more: Men are funnier than women, research suggests

Daughter and father cheersing cup, scheming something. (Getty Images)
You might want to team up for your April Fools' prank this year... (Getty Images)

What does April Fools’ Day mean?

Simply speaking, on April Fools’ Day people play pranks on each other with the aim of 'fooling' the recipient of the prank.

If the person you’re pranking is fooled by your practical jokes then they’ll be known (on 1 April at least) as an 'April Fool'.

You'll likely be familiar with someone gleefully screaming "April Fools'!" at you after successfully tricking you.

Where can we trace the day back to?

There are plenty of theories about the day, but perhaps you might think some are more believable than others.

When Pope Gregory XIII decided to change over to a new yearly calendar – the Gregorian calendar (adopted in Great Britain in 1752) – people struggled to adjust to the new year.

You see, before the Gregorian calendar, New Year’s Day was celebrated on 1 April, but the change saw people celebrating it on 1 January (as we now know it).

During that transition period, those who celebrated on the wrong day were branded as “fools” which in turn encouraged the start of April Fools’ Day.

April Fools' Day calendar. (Getty Images)
Get your pranks in before 12pm in the UK or they won't count. (Getty Images)

Another credible theory is that the day comes from Dutch origin. It’s sometimes attributed to the Dutch victory at Brielle in 1572.

When the Spanish were defeated in this battle on 1 April, a saying surfaced: “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril”.

The translation of this is: “On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses.”

The saying is actually a pun because “bril” means both the battle of Brielle as well as “bril” which in Dutch means glasses.

How is April Fools’ Day celebrated around the world?

There’s a prank element to every country’s celebrations, but each place puts their own twist on the tradition.

In France, for example, children will prank each other by taping paper fish to each other’s backs. They do this because 1 April used to be seen as an easy day to catch fish in streams and lakes in France.

But interestingly, France isn’t the only country to trick people in this way. In fact, many people believe the 'kick me' signs taped to people’s backs originated in Scotland for the purpose of April Fools’ Day.

Read more: What is laughing gas and what does it do to your body when inhaled?

hand glue yellow kick me sticker on persons back at aprill fool day
You might want to stick to age-old traditions or be a little more inventive with your pranks. (Getty Images)

What are the rules?

Anything goes as far as pranking is concerned, but one strict rule in the UK you might not be aware of is that it only lasts until noon – any pranks after that time don’t count.

If you’re in any other country, though (apart from Canada who follow the same rule as the UK) you can enjoy April Fools’ Day all day long, perhaps something we're lucky not to have this side of the pond.

Watch: How do different countries celebrate April Fools' day?