April Fool's Day: Did It Start With A Joke? Here's A Brief History


Many pull pranks on April Fool's Day, but only a few have an idea about the tradition.

Even if it is celebrated by different cultures, the exact origin of April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day is unknown, but there are a number of theories on how it truly began.

Some historians believe that it started in France as early as 1582 when they changed their calendar from Gregorian to Julian, as mandated by the Council of Trent in 1563.

The shift changed the new year to Jan. 1, and many of the people during that time failed to recognize this and continued celebrating the new year during the last week of March until April 1.

They were the first victims of the April 1 jokes and hoaxes. They would be referred to as "poisson d'avril (April fish) with paper fish placed on their backs to symbolize an easily caught fish or a gullible person.

In Rome, some historians believe that it is related to Hilaria, an ancient festival celebrated at the end of March. The festival involves people dressed up in disguise, as if to fool somebody.

Another speculation about the tradition is that it is linked to the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere or the vernal equinox. It is said that Mother Nature "fools" people with its unpredictable changing of weather.

It was in April 1, 1700 when English pranksters began popularizing the tradition, celebrating it annually by playing jokes on one another. The spread of the tradition in Britain continued until the 18th century.

In Scotland, April Fool's Day is a two-day event that begins with sending people on made-up errands or "hunting the gowk." Gowk is a term they use for a cuckoo bird that symbolizes a fool. The second day is called a Tailie Day in which pranksters would pin a fake tail or a "kick me" sign on someone's behind.

In recent times, pranksters have greatly evolved and have come up with jokes that make it to the headlines. Several hoaxes involved websites, newspapers, and television and radio stations to pull the prank on a greater length.

In 1957, the BBC came up with a report that Swiss farmers were able to harvest spaghetti crops. Footage was even shown, with people getting noodles from trees to make it believable. The BBC also staged another prank in 2008 by publishing a report that penguins were seen flying.

Sports fans were also duped into believing that a rookie was making history: Sports Illustrated ran a story in 1985 claiming that a rookie pitcher by the name of Sidd Finch could throw a fastball with a speed of 168 miles per hour.

Fastfood chains have also joined the bandwagon of fooling customers. In 1996, Taco Bell pranked people into believing that the company was able to buy out the Philadelphia Liberty Bell and that they would rename the chain as the Taco Liberty Bell. Burger King also advertised that they were selling a "Left-Handed Whopper" that sent people ordering for the fake sandwich.

Perhaps the longest-running April Fool's Day prank would be the New York City April Fool's Day Parade. Press releases for the non-existent parade has been issued annually since 1986. Today's press release reads:

"The Grand Marshall will be North Korean President Kim Jong-un dressed as the Pied Piper straddling his Ballistic Missile Float. He will be leading his faithful comrades, who will be goose-stepping and singing Ray Whitley and The Tams' 1963 hit, 'What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am?' Color commentary will be provided by Kanye West, who will be live-tweeting the parade from his Infinity Mirror Float."

Photo: Joel Kramer | Flickr

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