April Fools’ Day – The History of the Fools

April Fools’ Day, also called All Fools’ Day, is celebrated every April 1st in the United States. While it is not officially recognized as a holiday, many celebrate by pranking, or pulling practical jokes on, their colleagues or by organizing larger-scale hoaxes.

As April Fools’ is celebrated in different ways throughout the world, it is unknown exactly how the tradition originated. Some cultures saw it as the first day of spring, celebrating with general merriment and feasting, and certain calendars may consider it the first day of the year. One theory for the terming of an April Fool was that some refused to follow these calendars that recognized April 1st as the first day of the year, which resulted in being called an April Fool.

There are a few other theories as to precursors to the holiday tradition. Hilaria, a Roman festival, which celebrated Cybele, an Anatolian goddess, was celebrated around March 25th. The Feast of Fools was a term given to many medieval festivals celebrated during the fifth-sixteenth centuries in Europe, but particularly at the end of December. These celebrations developed a tradition of practical jokes, especially when observed in Spain.

However, the tradition of practical jokes had been well established by 1632, when legend states that the Duke of Lorraine and his wife escaped a prison at Nantes by dressing as peasants, walking right out the front gate. When the guards were alerted to the escape, they laughed at what they thought was an April Fools’ prank. One of the first April Fools’ pranks occurred in 1698, when citizens of London were tricked into attending the lion-washing ceremony at the Tower of London, a ceremony that did not actually exist.

April Fools’ Day Pranks

While Americans will typically shout, “April Fools!” after pulling off a prank, Europeans sometimes refer to the holiday as “April Fish,” as many observers will tack a paper fish to another’s back and yell “April Fish!” However, the individual pranked is still referred to as the “Fool.” Fish are often featured on European April Fools’ Day cards. Traditional pranking often stops at midday in the United Kingdom, and if one pranks after this time, they themselves become the fool.

Hunt-the-Gowk Day is Scotland’s version of the holiday, where one sends a messenger back and forth between another person, each time saying that they need to contact the other before the issue can be resolved. However, this practice is dying out in modern times. The Persian New Year falls on April 1st, which is marked in Iran with one of the oldest pranking traditions that still exist. This is actually another theater as to the holiday’s origin.

Many other cultures celebrate April Fools’ day similarly to the United States, and others may designate a “joke” day on another day of the year, such as May 1st for those living in Denmark.

Historic April Fools’ Pranks

Millionaire auctions off iceberg: in 1978, a businessman and adventurer named Dick Smith announced he would be towing an iceberg from Antarctica to break into smaller cubes for sale. He advertised that these Antarctic ice cubes would freshen the taste of any drink for the price of ten cents a cube. The media was on site in the Sydney Harbor to report on the barge towing the iceberg, which was revealed to actually sheets covered with shaving cream and fire extinguishing foam.

The Derbyshire Fairy: Lebanon Circle Magik Co. (which should have been the first clue) posted a picture of what looked like a small mummified fairy on their website in 2007, stating that a man had found the creature while walking his dog out in the country. The photo attracted thousands of visitors to the sites and resulted in many interested emails. But on April 1st, the site’s owner admitted the creature was an April Fools’ hoax. However, the most interesting part of this story is that many continued to contact the website stating that they did not believe that the fairy was fake.

Big Ben Goes Digital: The BBC reported in 1980 that the famous Big Ben clock tower would be converted to a digital clock in order to modernize the tower’s look. This outraged many citizens, as the clock tower was a historical part of London’s culture. BBC Japan even offered the clock hands in a contest to the first four callers, which actually resulted in some bidding.

Loch Ness Monster Found: In 1972, a photo surfaced that the Flamingo Park Zoo in Yorkshire claimed to be the body of the Lock Ness Monster, discovered by a team of zoologists at Loch Ness. However, upon further inspection, the photo appeared to be of a seal. The zoo’s education officer eventually confessed to the hoax, saying that he’d placed the seal in the water after shaving its whiskers.

Sweden Covers their TVs in Tights: in 1962, Sweden’s only television channel announced that the station could be viewed in color if one cut up tights and placed it over the television’s screen, which would bend the television’s light to make it appear in color. Thousands of Swedes cut up stockings and taped them over their television only to realize they were victims of a hoax.

The Earth Loses Gravity: in 1976, BBC Radio 2 reported that due to rare astronomical alignment of Pluto behind Jupiter, the Earth’s gravity would decrease. Listeners were told to jump in the air at 9:47 AM to take advantage of this, which would result in a floating feeling. Many reported that they had felt this floating sensation, one even stating that she and her friends lifted from their chairs to float around the room together.

Home Grown Spaghetti Trees: one of the most famous April Fools’ pranks occurred in 1957, when BBC news program Panorama reported on Switzerland’s spaghetti harvest. The region’s mild winter and lack of natural spaghetti pests allowed for the fruitful production of home-grown spaghetti. The BBC received many calls from people interested in growing their own spaghetti, who were told that they should place a sprig of spaghetti in tomato sauce.