Pranks, practical jokes and various goofs abound at the start of April, when celebrants around the world mark April Fools’ Day – a tradition that dates back several centuries.
Even though April Fools’ Day, also known as All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for centuries, no one is completely sure of its exact origins.
According to History.com, many historians speculate that April Fools’ Day traces its origins to the transition from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one in 1582. At this point, the start of the new year had been moved to January 1 from the last week of March. Those who were slow to get the news still celebrated the new year from late March into April and became the object of pranks as a result. One of the more notable pranks included having a paper fish placed on the backs of unsuspecting individuals and being referred to as poisson d’avril (April fish). This symbolized a young, easily fooled, or hooked fish.
During the 1700s, April Fools’ Day spread northward throughout areas of Britain. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event. One feature was sending people on phony errands called ‘hunting the gowk.’ Gowk refers to the cuckoo bird, which often has been used as a symbol for fools. Tallie Day followed, which included pranks like pinning fake tails or ‘kick me’ signs on unsuspecting people.
The earliest mass April Fools’ Day hoax on record occurred in 1698, according to Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes.
“People in London were told to go see the annual ceremony of the washing of the lions at the Tower of London,” said Boese. “They showed up at the Tower of London, but there was no annual lion-washing ceremony.”
Mass media later became a prime vehicle for some April tomfoolery. In 1957, the BBC told viewers there was a great spaghetti crop in Switzerland that year due to the disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, and people of Britain, who were largely unfamiliar with spaghetti at the time, believed it. Faux advertisements, broadcasts and interviews eventually crop up as well. National Public Radio did a piece on how Richard Nixon was going to run for president in the 1992 race and used the voice of a man who sounded like Nixon. People were outraged, and thousands believed it.
Many companies have gotten in on the foolishness in recent years. The popular dating app Tinder once announced they put an end to men lying about their height on the app with a ‘height verification feature.’ And Lego purportedly introduced a ‘Find My Brick’ app to make building more efficient. Even National Geographic got in on the fun when, in 2016, the media company announced via Twitter that it would no longer be publishing photos of naked animals, stating “the media group will no longer degrade animals by showing photos of them without clothes.” Those who clicked through were greeted with ‘April Fools’ and photos of adorably dressed puppies and kittens.