April Fools’ Day – A little About April Fools Day and its Origin – April 1st!
April Fools’ Day—occurring 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
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.
Hilaria in Ancient Rome
Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to festivals such as Hilaria (Latin for joyful), which was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March by followers of the cult of Cybele. It involved people dressing up in disguises and mocking fellow citizens and even magistrates and was said to be inspired by the Egyptian legend of Isis, Osiris and Seth.
Vernal Equinox and April Fools’
There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
History of April Fools’ Day
April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
April Fools’ Day Pranks
In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and websites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences.
In 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees. In 1985, Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton tricked many readers when he ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.
In 1992, National Public Radio ran a spot with former President Richard Nixon saying he was running for president again… only it was an actor, not Nixon, and the segment was all an April Fools’ Day prank that caught the country by surprise.
In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich. Google notoriously hosts an annual April Fools’ Day prank that has included everything from “telepathic search” to the ability to play Pac Man on Google Maps.
For the average trickster, there is always the classic April Fools’ Day prank of covering the toilet with plastic wrap or swapping the contents of sugar and salt containers.
9 Zany April Fools’ Day Hoaxes
1856: The Tower of London hosts a lion washing extravaganza
In the days leading up to April 1, 1856, London residents received an official-looking invitation printed on Tower of London stationery and bearing a crimson wax seal. Signed “Herbert de Grassen,” supposedly a “senior warden” at the popular tourist attraction and prison, the leaflet offered admission to “view the annual ceremony of washing the lions” on April 1. Such an event could have indeed taken place two decades earlier, but the Tower’s famous menagerie—which for 600 years featured bears, leopards, lions and other dangerous beasts—had closed in 1835. Nevertheless, a certain number of would-be spectators showed up for the display, only to learn they’d fallen prey to an April Fools’ hoax.
1957: Spaghetti grows on trees
Leave it to the Brits to concoct one of history’s most memorable April Fools’ Day pranks. On April 1, 1957, the BBC aired a segment in which a Swiss farming family harvested long strands of pasta from their spaghetti trees. In England at that time, Spaghetti was still an exotic delicacy with mysterious origins, so many viewers bought the report hook, line and sinker. Some even called in to ask how to grow spaghetti trees of their own. The BBC reportedly suggested, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
1962: Swedish televisions don pantyhose
On April 1, 1962, a supposed technical expert for Sweden’s one and only television channel made an exciting announcement. By stretching out a pair of nylon stockings and taping it over their screens, he reported, viewers could watch the usual black-and-white broadcast in stunning color. Television owners rushed to implement the astonishingly simple hack, only to be disappointed when the hose did nothing but obscure the picture. Regular color programming would eventually debut in Sweden on April 1, 1970.
1972: The Loch Ness Monster surfaces
Very few April Fools’ Days go by without some Nessie-related hoax, but in 1972 a widely published photograph convinced many that Loch Ness’ elusive dweller had finally made an appearance—sadly, dead rather than alive. It turned out that a prankster from Yorkshire’s Flamingo Park Zoo had dumped the body of a bull elephant seal in the lake. He had only intended to play a joke on his coworkers, but the “news” quickly went viral.
1976: Gravity takes a hiatus
On April 1, 1976, the BBC pulled off yet another of its many April Fools’ Day pranks. Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners that at 9:47 a.m. that day, the temporary alignment of Pluto and Jupiter would cause a reduction in Earth’s gravity, allowing people to briefly levitate. Sure enough, at 9:48, hundreds of enthralled callers flooded the lines with reports that they had floated in the air.
1992: Richard Nixon makes a comeback
Tricky Dick running for president—again? That’s what National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” program revealed on April 1, 1992. The segment even included a clip in which the disgraced politician intoned, “I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” As outraged listeners called in to express their dismay, the station admitted the announcement was a hoax. Comedian Rich Little, known for his spot-on impression of the 37th president, had played the role of Nixon.
1998: Lefties get their own burger
In a full-page advertisement in USA Today, Burger King unveiled a new menu item specifically engineered for southpaws: the Left-Handed Whopper. According to the fast food chain, the burger’s condiments were rotated 180 degrees to better suit the 1.4 million lefties who patronized its restaurants. Thousands of customers requested the new burger, swallowing an April Fools’ Day whopper as they ordered their Whopper.
2000: People Google with their minds
Now famous for its annual hoaxes, Google played its first April Fools’ Day prank in 2000. Visitors to the search engine’s website learned about a new “MentalPlex” technology that supposedly read people’s minds, thereby bypassing the need to type in a query. Google has orchestrated an increasing number of elaborate ruses in the years since, announcing such products and features as Google Nose, Gmail Motion and PigeonRank.
2013: Uncle Sam Wants Kitties
The U.S. Army jumped on the hoax bandwagon in 2013, when it sent out a seemingly official press release announcing the latest additions to the U.S. Armed Forces. Claiming that drafting cats to serve their country would cut down on military spending, officials went on to say that it was time these feckless felines got to work. As Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Radmall wisely stated, “Not only will the Army have a more cost-effective working animal, but we will be doing our part in getting them off of the streets and finding them employment.” But while Army brass seemed bullish on the idea, they did note that the K-9 units weren’t taking too kindly to the new recruits, resulting in more than a little fighting like cats and dogs.
A Brief, Totally Sincere History of April Fools’ Day. Washington Post.
History’s Greatest April Fools Jokes. National Geographic.
Some of the greatest April Fools’ pranks of all time. CNN.
15 Best April Fools’ Day Hoaxes. CBS.