We are all too familiar with April Fools Day, whether we have been the prankster or have been on the receiving end of some shenanigans. So where did this tradition begin?
History shows that in 1700, English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other but that the tradition dates back even farther. Although the day, also called All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery.
Many historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
April Fools’ Day has also been linked to festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There’s alo speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
Today April Fools Day is celebrated by newspapers, radio and TV stations, web sites and companies by reporting outrageous claims and releasing fictions products to their audiences and customers. On Thursday Coffee-mate published a Facebook ad announcing their newest product, coffee flavoured Coffee-mate.
In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.