April Fools’ Day has a lengthy history behind it, dating back to 536 BC in Iran on the 13th day of the Persian new year, the Roman festival of Hilaria and the Medieval Festival of Fools, believe it or not. Today, many traditionally tie it to 1582 when the calendar in France was reformed under Charles IX, moving New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1. Since communication was slow in those days, some were unaware of the change until years later, continuing to celebrate on April 1; those celebrators were considered “fools” by those who were aware of the change.
There is a wide array of countries that celebrate some variation of the holiday today, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Cyprus, South Africa, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia, The Netherlands, Germany, Brazil and Ireland, among others.
One of the earliest records of “pranks” being played on April Fools’ Day comes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1392; in “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” the story unfolds on what readers have taken to be “March 32nd,” which would be April 1st, during which a vain cock is tricked by a fox. Over a century later in 1508, we have the French poet Eloy d’Amerval referring to a “poission d’avril,” or an “April fish.” This could be why even today, children in France and Italy tack paper fish on each other’s backs on this date to celebrate. In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote about a nobleman sending his servants to complete foolish tasks on April 1st. The first British reference is from 1686 when John Aubrey wrote about “Fooles Holy Day.” Just over a decade later in 1698, there is a record of a group of people being tricked into entering the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed.”
Some of the traditional “pranks” played in various parts of the world include Flemish children locking their parents or teachers outside, letting them in only when they promise them treats, and Koreans sending bowls of snow to their “victims” with false excuses. The English relegate their pranks to before noon where the “fools” are called “gobs,” and the Scots send sealed messages to the “gowk,” or “foolish person.” Furthermore, April Fools’ Day in Scotland has been devoted to pranks involving the buttocks and is known as “Taily Day.” Many think the origin of the “Kick Me” sign can be traced back to the Scots.
Below you’ll find some of the most outrageous pranks ever recorded for your reading pleasure:
April 1, 1878: The New York “Graphic” announced that Thomas Edison had invented a machine to turn water into wine and soil into cereal. Papers around the country did not understand the joke and republished the article many times over with critical editorial praise.
April 1, 1940: Actually posted the day prior, Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute issued a press release assuring that the world would come to an end tomorrow – April 1st – reading, “Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of the Franklin Institute…Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow…” Local authorities were overwhelmed with frightened callers and press agent William Castellini was fired for the prank.
April 1, 1957: The BBC news program “Panorama” announced that the spaghetti weevil had been eliminated and Swiss farmers were enjoying a massive spaghetti harvest; accompanying the news segment was footage of the Swiss pulling spaghetti strands from “spaghetti trees.” Viewers called in asking how to grow their own spaghetti trees.
April 1, 1962: The one television channel in Sweden at the time announced that new technology would allow viewers to convert their black and white sets to color simply by pulling a nylon stocking over the screen.
April 1, 1975: Australia’s “This Day Tonight” news program announced that the country was converting to metric time and there would soon be 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour and 20-hour days. Furthering the hoax, seconds would be known as “millidays,” minutes as “centidays” and hours as “decidays.” One viewer called in to ask how he could convert his new digital clock to metric time.
April 1, 1976: BBC Radio 2 held an interview with British astronomer Patrick Moore who announced that at 9:47AM, Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would decrease the Earth’s gravity; if you jumped into the air at the exact moment, you could float. Listeners were so convinced, hundreds called in claiming they had levitated.
April 1, 1989: A northwest comedy show called “Almost Live” aired a special during which a “news anchor” announced the Space Needle had collapsed, leading to an overload of 9-1-1 calls in Seattle.
April 1, 1996: The Taco Bell Corporation announced that they had purchased the Liberty
Bell and would be renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” When White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about it, he went along with the joke and further announced that the Lincoln Memorial was also sold and would now be known as the “Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”
April 1, 1998: An issue of the newsletter “New Mexicans for Science and Reason” announced that the Alabama state legislature voted to change the value of pi from 3.14… to the so-called “Biblical value” of 3.0. On this day, Burger King also announced the unveiling of the “Left Handed Whopper,” where the condiments had been rotated 180 degrees for easier consumption for all of their left-handed diners.
April 1, 2000: The British Daily Mail revealed that Esporta Health Clubs were launching a new line of socks known as “FatSox” that would actually suck the fat out of your body through your feet.
April 1, 2007: Facebook announced “LivePoke,” in which users would click on the “Poke” icon and send a live person to a friend to administer a real, live poke – only good for the first 100 pokes.
A. J. Walkley is the author of such titles as “Queer Greer” and “Choice”. You can find out what she’s up to next on her web site, www.ajwalkley.com or her blog, alisonwalkley.com Alison aka Ali aka A. J. is great to follow on Twitter @AJWalkley!
HYPERLINK “http://www.april-fools.us/history-april-fools.htm” http://www.april-fools.us/history-april-fools.htm
HYPERLINK “http://museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/aprilfool/” http://museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/aprilfool/
HYPERLINK “http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/01/april-fools-day-pranks_n_841663.html” l “s258809&title=Swiss_Spaghetti_Harvest” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/01/april-fools-day-pranks_n_841663.html#s258809&title=Swiss_Spaghetti_Harvest
HYPERLINK “http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/2011/0331/The-five-best-online-April-Fools-pranks/Facebook-offers-real-live-pokes” http://www.csmonitor.com/Innovation/2011/0331/The-five-best-online-April-Fools-pranks/Facebook-offers-real-live-pokes
HYPERLINK “http://www.sheknows.com/holidays-and-seasons/articles/827325/best-april-fools-pranks” http://www.sheknows.com/holidays-and-seasons/articles/827325/best-april-fools-pranks