April Fools’ Day
April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, is one of the most light-hearted days of the year. How do you celebrate it? Do you leave it alone? Avoid everyone? Spend weeks coming up with pranks to play on family and friends? Did you ever wonder why we celebrate April Fools’ Day, where it originated from or how it is celebrated around the world?
Here are some interesting facts and pranks for you.
The earliest recorded reference to April Fools’ Day was in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1392.
Although historians believe April Fools’ began in France, no one is entirely certain. One belief is that it began with a calendar change in the 16th century, when Pope Gregory XIII adopted the Gregorian calendar, and New Year’s Day was moved from April 1 to January 1. That year, France adopted the reformed calendar and shifted New Year’s Day to January 1. According to a popular explanation, many people either refused to accept the new date, or did not learn about it, and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. Other people began to make fun of these traditionalists, sending them on “fool’s errands” looking for things that don’t exist or trying to trick them into believing something false or ridiculous. Eventually, the practice spread throughout Europe.
Another explanation of the origins of April Fools’ Day was provided by Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University. He explained that the practice began during the reign of Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine, amused, allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day, and the custom became an annual event.
“In a way,” explained Prof. Boskin, “it was a very serious day. In those times fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.”
This explanation was brought to the public’s attention in an Associated Press article printed by many newspapers in 1983. There was only one catch: Boskin made the whole thing up. It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize that they’d been victims of an April Fools’ joke themselves.
It is worth noting that many different cultures have had days of foolishness around the start of April, give or take a couple of weeks. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria (Laughing in English) on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of the god Attis. The Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. Perhaps there’s something about the time of year, with its turn from winter to spring, that lends itself to light-hearted celebrations.
In Scotland, April Fools’ Day used to be called “Hunt the Gowk Day.” “Gowk” is an old Scottish word for a foolish person. A traditional prank involved sending the “gowk” to deliver a sealed message. The message instructed the recipient, “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” (meaning something like: “don’t laugh, don’t smile, send away the fool for another mile”). The recipient would then send the victim onward to another person, bearing an identical sealed message. The joke went on until either the “gowk” got wise to what was going on, or someone took pity on him.
The French call April 1 Poisson d’Avril, or “April Fish.” French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered.
Some famous pranks
On 1 April 1976, BBC radio astronomer Patrick Moore stated to radio listeners that an astronomical event (the conjunction of Jupiter and Pluto) would take place at 9:47 a.m. that day, which would noticeably decrease gravity on Earth. If listeners were to jump into the air at that exact moment, they would find they felt a floating sensation
Twenty years earlier, the BBC fooled the nation with a spoof documentary broadcast about spaghetti crops in Switzerland. The documentary “featured a family in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry.” Apparently, millions were duped – calling in to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti trees.
Twitter jumped in on the April Fools’ Day bandwagon in 2013 to announce that they were shifting to a two-tiered service. Those who wanted to use their services for free could use Twttr, where they could tweet only consonants. Those who paid $5/monthly could use consonants and vowels.
As an April Fools’ Day prank in 1998, Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA TODAY introducing the newest menu item: a “Left-Handed Whopper.”
Even Mark Twain had something to say about April Fools’ Day: “This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894)
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