Just like in the West, April 1st in Russia is a widely-known and “celebrated” holiday in the beginning of spring. Although it's not widely known, Russians are extremely fond of humor, laughter, and jokes, and boast some of the best and most hilarious comedians the world (although not everyone agrees -- perhaps you have to be Russian to really “get it”). Regardless of whether you get their humor or not, April 1st is a great day to be in Russia and to celebrate the arrival of spring with the rest of the country.
History of the Holiday
When the holiday was first celebrated in Russia, it was much more closely related to the beginning of spring than it is now. The Slavic people would dress in costumes and masks, and go out into the streets and fields and make lots of noise and raucous laughter to scare the winter away. Peter I first officially recognized the holiday as April Fool’s Day. Since those times, the holiday is well-recognized in Russia as a day designated for joy, laughter, and yes -- practical jokes.
Unlike in a lot of places in the West, there is no rule that April Fool’s Day lasts only until 12 p.m. If one celebrates it, one can celebrate it all day long -- so be prepared for practical jokes everywhere you go in the country on that date.
Just like in the West, both kids and adults sometimes partake in pranks, from the silly to the extreme. However, as a rule, April 1st is not recognized or celebrated in offices, workplaces or schools (although some classrooms do, rarely, pay it a bit of attention). Most of the time the pranks that Russian people play on each other are small and mostly harmless -- it is quite rare for someone to spend a lot of time planning an elaborate prank on this day.
Russian media also get involved, often posting prank and joke articles in the newspapers and online. Of course, in a country where a lot of ridiculous things happen on a daily basis anyway, it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction. For example, in 2008, even public officials were confused about whether an article (falsely) claiming that it was going to be a requirement in Ulyanovsk to play the national anthem to each new baby that was born (to promote patriotism) was true or false.
In theaters and other public venues, comedy, improv and sketch shows are put on for the public on April 1st. These are extremely popular with Russian people and are usually very high-quality comedy. If you speak Russian, you should definitely plan to check one out if you’re in Russia for April Fool’s Day. Sometimes in Moscow or St. Petersburg, you can even find comedy shows in English.
Important April Fool’s Words and Phrases
Here are some basic Russian words and phrases that you should know before celebrating April Fool’s Day in Russia:
- April Fool’s Day (Literally: April 1st) – Первое Апреля (PER-vo-ye ap-RE-lya)
- April Fool's Day (Literally: Day of Laughter) - День Смеха (DEN' SMEkha)
- April Fool's Day (Literally: Day of Fools) - День Дураков (DEN' du-ra-KOV)
- Happy April Fool’s Day! (Happy April 1st) – С первым Апреля! (s PER-vim ap-RE-lya)
- Joke – Шутка (SHUT-ka)
- Laughter – Смех (SMEkh)
- Smile – Улыбка (ul-IB-ka)
- Practical joke – Розыгрыш (RO-zi-grish)