Gem in the spotlight: April Fools' Day in Bruges

28 Apr 2022

As a child, did you look forward to 1st April full of excitement, ready to spend the day getting up to mischief and pranking your parents, friends or teacher? Do you still count down the days until you can play tricks on a colleague? Then you’re not alone. April Fools’ jokes are played all over the world every year, and it was no different in Bruges on 1 April 1995.

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Several tourists on board a boat on a canal in Bruges were given a shock when the inspector announced that anyone without a ticket had to get off, and four young men – who were in on the joke – quickly jumped into the water. This frightened the life out of their fellow passengers, who had deliberately not been given a ticket. Would they also end up having a bracing dip? Fortunately, everyone had a good laugh about it afterwards. One of the tourists even said it was the best April Fools’ prank she’d ever experienced.

Where does April Fools' Day come from?

Historians are still trying to figure out how the April Fools’ Day tradition started. One popular theory places its origins in the transition to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Before then, the New Year was celebrated from 25 March until 1 April, but according to the new calendar it now started on 1 January. In the first few years that followed, some people still sent out invitations for New Year’s parties on 1 April, to fool others, and people who forgot that New Year was no longer 1 April were termed ‘April Fools’.

This theory may sound credible, but it’s highly unlikely to be accurate because historians have uncovered evidence from earlier sources. In 1539, the Ghent court poet Eduard de Dene wrote a poem about a servant whose master sent them on an ‘impossible’ mission on 1 April. Others link April Fool’s Day to much older traditions, such as the Hilaria in ancient Greece or celebrating the vernal equinox.

But whatever its origins, it remains a worldwide phenomenon to this day – from children playing pranks on their friends in the playground, to international companies making false announcements and employers tricking their employees, nobody is safe from April Fools’ Day.

We regularly highlight treasures like this from our archive system by showcasing them on our website. This report comes from the archive of content partner Focus-WTV, who lead the way in interesting news from West Flanders.

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