The Origin and History of April Fool's Day

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The Origin and History of April Fools’ Day

Celebrated annually on April 1, April Fools’ Day is a prominent tradition celebrated across many cultures for the last several centuries. However, the exact origins of this fun-filled holiday remain a mystery.

April Fools’ Day traditions often include playing practical jokes or hoaxes and when the joke or hoax is exposed, yelling “April Fools!” at the end. Even though the history of this jokester holiday is shrouded in mystery, modern media and major business brands have ensured the holiday has a place in mainstream society.

Possible Origins of April Fools’ Day

Gregorian Calendar

Several historians believe April Fools’ Day began in 1582 when France switched from the traditional Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which was required by the Council of Trent in 1563. While on the Julian Calendar, which is the same as the Hindu calendar, the new year began around April 1, or with the spring equinox.

Some people didn’t receive the news on time and continued celebrating the new year on April 1 instead of January 1. These people became the target of jokes and hoaxes, thus being called “April fools.” Some of the original pranks are believed to include pinning paper fish on the backs of people (known as “poisson d’avril” or “April fish”), which symbolized a young or easily caught fish – also known as a gullible person.

Hilaria

Other historians have also linked this prank-filled day to festivals such as Hilaria, an ancient celebration in Rome at the end of March, which followers of Cybele (a cult) celebrated. This celebration involved people dressing up in various disguises and then proceeding to mock citizens and magistrates and is believed to be inspired by the ancient Egyptian legend of Osiris, Isis and Seth.

Vernal Equinox and April Fools’ Day

Historians also speculate that perhaps April Fools’ Day coincided with the vernal equinox, otherwise celebrated as the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. During this celebration, Mother Nature often fooled people with unpredictable, changing weather.

History of April Fool's Day

April Fools’ was a fun-filled holiday that rapidly spread throughout Great Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the April Fools’ tradition became an annual two-day event, which began with the “hunting the gowk,” where people were sent on various phony errands. A “gowk” is another word for a cuckoo bird, a traditional symbol for a fool. The second day, known as Tailie Day, involved several pranks played on people’s behinds, such as pinning “kick me” signs or even fake tails on their bottoms.

Famous April Fools’ Day Pranks

In today’s modern times, people go to great lengths to develop and create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. TV stations, newspapers, radios and websites have participated in tradition, reporting fictional claims that have fooled readers and viewers alike. Three of the top April Fools’ Day pranks of all time are featured below.

Spaghetti Harvest

Great Britain is a leader in the best April Fools’ Day pranks. In 1957, the news show Panorama reported that Swiss farmers were enjoying an incredible bumper spaghetti crop due to a mild winter. The BBC TV show featured a three-minute report on Swiss farmers who were carefully harvesting spaghetti strands from their trees. Thousands of people fell for this elaborate prank, many calling the BBC directly and inquiring how to purchase a spaghetti tree. The BBC took the joke a step further and told each caller that they could “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Big Ben Goes Digital

Yet another time Great Britain fooled the masses was with their 1980 prank that announced that Big Ben would be undergoing a modern-day facelift and going digital. So naturally, the station was flooded with outraged callers complaining that Big Ben should not be updated.

Eiffel Tower Relocates to Disney

According to the Le Parisien story, in 1986, the Eiffel Tower would be dismantled and then relocated and built inside a new Euro Disney park.

For even more great April Fools’ day pranks, check out this video from CNN. You can read more about the history of April Fools’ Day on History.com.

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