To Prank Or Not To Prank: April Fools’ Day
As a child or young adult, and maybe even a time or 2 now I loved April Fool’s Day and did my share of pranks. So I became interested in how this day started and why all over the world it is an unofficial day to prank. As myou can tell by now I just love history.
April Fools’ Day—celebrated on April 1 each year—has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, though its exact origins remain a mystery. April Fools’ Day traditions include playing hoaxes or practical jokes on others, often yelling “April Fools!” at the end to clue in the subject of the April Fools’ Day prank. While its exact history is shrouded in mystery, the embrace of April Fools’ Day jokes by the media and major brands has ensured the unofficial holiday’s long life.
Origins of April Fools’ Day:
One likely predecessor to the origin of April Fools’ day is the Roman tradition of Hilaria, a spring festival held around March 25 in honor of the first day of the year longer than the night (we call this the vernal equinox, which typically falls on March 20). Festivities included games, processions, and masquerades, during which disguised commoners could imitate nobility to devious ends. They should have stuck with these April Fools’ jokes to make everyone laugh.
It’s hard to say whether this ancient revelry’s similarities to modern April Fools’ Day are legit or coincidence, as the first recorded mentions of the holiday didn’t appear until several hundred years later.
Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. In the Julian Calendar, as in the Hindu calendar, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1.
People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called “April fools.” These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
April Fools’ Day, also called All Fools’ Day, in most countries the first day of April. It received its name from the custom of playing practical jokes on this day—for example, telling friends that their shoelaces are untied or sending them on so-called fools’ errands. Although the day has been observed for centuries, its true origins are unknown and effectively unknowable. It resembles festivals such as the Hilaria of ancient Rome, held on March 25, and the Holi celebration in India, which ends on March 31. April Fools’ Day is celebrated on April 1st each year!
In France reference to a young fish and hence to one that is easily caught; it is common for French children to pin a paper fish to the backs of unsuspecting friends. In Scotland the day is Gowkie Day, for the gowk, or cuckoo, a symbol of the fool and the cuckold, which suggests that it may have been associated at one time with sexual license; on the following day signs reading “kick me” are pinned to friends’ backs. In many countries newspapers and the other media participate—for example, with false headlines or news stories.
Money may not grow on trees, but spaghetti sure does, at least according to one of the most famous April Fools’ Day pranks and hoaxes of all time.
Back on April 1, 1957, Britain’s news show Panorama soberly informed viewers about a spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The pasta was thriving both due to a mild winter and, of course, thanks to the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.” Delivering the news was none other than Britain’s hugely respected Richard Dimbleby, who was the BBC’s first war correspondent, and then its leading TV news commentator. The news was greeted with deep enthusiasm because, after all, “for those who love this dish, there’s nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti.”
It’s all part of the annual tradition of marking the beginning of April with April Fools’ Day, when those so inclined prank others in their lives by announcing fake marriages, pregnancies, or the purported purchase of the Liberty Bell by Taco Bell in 1996. You might wonder how all this foolishness got started. What is the origin of April Fools’ Day, and why do we celebrate?
“People glom on to it because it’s hilarious and fun. Yes there have been a lot of nasty jokes played over the years and for some people it’s a way to be malicious to others. At the same time, we all have an innate desire to be mischievous. It’s part of our human nature. April Fools’ Day gives a way to play a prank on someone or a joke without doing too much harm,” says Rob Weiner, pop culture librarian at Texas Tech University.
Britain changed its calendar in 1752, which meant that January 1 marked the beginning of the year. And so it makes sense that the Brits embraced April Fools’ Day in the 18th century, which meant people were sent on phony errands and played pranks like — well, you can imagine. Oh but wait, there’s more. According to History.com, some muse that April Fools’ Day traces its origins to the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Why? Because Mother Nature is a prickly and surprising creature, and tricks you into believing that warmer temps are here — right before that freak snow storm hits in mid-April.
“What strikes me is the fact that you’ve got these traditions in Ireland, in Scotland, in France. It’s an official holiday in the Ukraine. How did the concept of April Fools’ expand to these different countries? That’s the true mystery,” says Weiner. “My speculation is that the concept of there being a day for fools and pranks — it was transmitted orally. And then it became codified in regular popular culture that the first of April was the day of fools. It’s one of those weird quirks of history that has transcended cultural boundaries.”
But pinning tails on people or covering the toilet with clear saran wrap doesn’t begin to compare to the left-handed Whopper announced by Burger King in 1998. Or the new pizza-flavored seltzer you could ostensibly buy from Bud Light one year, part of a growing tradition of pranks by food brands. April Fools!