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The History of April Fool’s Day

by People! Just say Something! 21 days ago in Historical

Have you ever wondered where April Fool's Day comes from? Did someone wake up on April 1st and decide that today is the day we all play pranks on each other? The true origin may surprise you!

Let’s face it, we all forget about April Fool’s Day before it’s too late. Over the last couple of years, it seems that everyone has accepted the challenge of pulling off the ultimate prank. From YouTubers to politicians, there is no way of telling who will get to say the words we all dread to hear… APRIL FOOLS!

I have already received my April fool’s today. I woke up this morning with a gaze across my eyes, not paying attention to anything in particular, and did my morning routine of greeting my partner with her daily morning cuddle and kiss before checking the news on my phone. A couple of days ago, I walked past Big Ben in central London and saw that the scaffolding was still in place. It has been over four years since its renovations have begun and, I can’t believe I’m saying this; I cannot wait until the builders remove the scaffolding. It’s been such an eyesore for so long and cost the government so much. It’s about time they finish the renovations. As I scroll down my news feed, I see a specific article talking about Big Ben and that its renovation is finally complete!

“They’ve finished Big Ben!” I exclaimed, startling my partner with my mediocrely interesting fact before continuing reading the article.

I admit that I was pretty excited about its completion and simultaneously started planning a day trip to see the old tower once again. Any excuse to get out in the sun is good enough for me, especially when London is free from tourists for the foreseeable future. I even went as far as to see when the sun will be out next. (You have to plan days out in the UK, especially in London. It rains a lot.) I returned to the article and prepared to finish my morning read. And, to my horror, there it was… April Fools!

The horror! I slammed my face into my pillow as my partner mocked me for being so gullible. I smiled, turned over in my bed, and began planning this article. Why is it that April 1st is the day of pranks and fools? Where did its origins come from? I had to find out!

After some intensive research into the date, I was shocked to see how far this tradition spans and how it has evolved since its first celebration. I now wish to share what I’ve found and, hopefully, make us all more informed on our culture and history. Let’s begin!

That’s so Hilaria!

It’s hard to find a European celebration that does not somehow link back to either the Romans or Greeks, and Aprils Fools is no exception. Historians believe that similarities to the celebration date back to Ancient Rome. At the end of March, the Cult of Cybele would dress in disguises and mock citizens and magistrates. Cybele, also referred to as Magna mater (Great Mother in Latin), was an Idaean goddess from Mount Ida. Originating from Asia, the cult spread through Italy and its Western provinces, quickly gaining a vast following of worshipers. The cult would celebrate the festival of Hilaria, where the followers would host Masquerade Balls and dress as figures of authority, mocking them throughout the day. Comedy was the critical element of these celebrations. It’s good to know that the Romans could take a joke, as history tells us that certain emperors did not have the best sense of humour. I’m talking about you, Caligula.

Jokes come naturally

We all know someone blessed with the gift of comedy. Landing the perfect punchline is more complex than it seems and is an art form that takes years of practice to perfect. Well, to some, comedy comes as second nature, and there may be more to the notion of natural comedy than meets the eye. Historians believe that April Fools has its roots tied to the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox occurs on either March 20th or 21st and signals the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the south. Many believed that Mother Nature played pranks on them by unpredictably changing the weather in the spring. We now know that these weather changes are due to the tilting of the Earth’s axis and that these changes happen naturally. In the past, however, I imagine it would be pretty annoying to see sudden changes in the weather that would affect crop growth which the residents depended on for survival. I guess a good sense of humour is needed when facing the idea of starvation and poverty.

Good one, Mother nature… hilarious!

Have you not heard? You Fool!

Some believe that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, initially introduced by Pope Gregory XIII. The change was called for by the Council of Trent in 1563 and had the beginning of the calendar moved from April to the first of January. The news was slow to reach people, and many would continue to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st, which led to others calling them “April fools”. The fools would then be pranked by having paper fish stuck onto their backs and be referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April Fish), symbolising a young, easily caught fish referring to the gullible attributes of the fool. I’m glad this tradition did not stick as, knowing some of my friends’ humour, I am sure I would have an actual fish stuck onto my back. My friends have no limits when it comes to pranking me; I can be pretty gullible.

The Scottish sense of humour

In 18th century Britain, April Fools’ Day begins to take shape to become the celebration we know today. (More precisely, Scotland.) The Scots initially celebrated the tradition over two days. The first day had people running silly errands, called ‘hunting the gowk’, that would have the runner perform various unnecessary tasks. (Gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol recognised by many to mean fool.) The second day was called Tailie Day. The day would consist of people playing pranks on each other by attaching fake tails and “KICK ME” signs on people’s derrieres, or butts. Yep, even in the 18th century, people were obsessed with butts! Some things are just funny, no matter the generation.

The most Notable April Fool’s Day Pranks in History

As I said before, to pull off a good April Fools prank is a skill, and to do it on a global scale is nothing less than impressive. Over the years, we have seen some jaw-dropping pranks that I cannot believe succeeded. Here are some of my favourites!

In 1957, the BBC reported a story of Swiss farmers harvesting a record number of the less known spaghetti crop. The news channel showed footage of the farmers harvesting the pasta from trees which had some very gullible viewers believe that spaghetti does grow on trees. I cannot believe this prank succeeded.

Taco Bell decided to join the fun in 1996, where they announced that the chain had succeeded in purchasing the liberty bell and was to rename it ‘Taco Liberty Bell’. You have to admit that it does have a certain charm to the name. Burger King followed Taco Bell in 1998, where they announced the ‘left-handed Whopper’, tailored to all of you left-handed people out there. Unlike the problems that come with writing in gel-ink pens, I am not sure what the difference would have been regarding the burger. However, this did not stop thousands of customers ask for the order in the chains. Well played Burger King, well played.

Google: the King of April Fools

Google is by far the most successful company on the list that is famous for going to great lengths to pull the best April Fools prank. You simply have to google (pun not intended) “Google April Fools Pranks”, and a list will appear with a handful of annual stunts dating back to 2000! From click buttons that would perform specific actions and load games to a Where’s Waldo addition to Google Maps, the company seems to have an endless arsenal of pranks in its sleeve.

I fell victim to Google’s notorious April Fools prank in 2014. The company announced that its Google Maps app would have Pokémon roaming the world WAY in advance of April Fools. I cannot tell you how excited I was for this addition. The feature had Pokémon appear on the map randomly and provided no means of interacting with the Pokémon, only to view on the map. Once Google announced this was an April Fools joke, Pokémon fans worldwide saw the first glimpse of what it would be like to have Pokémon alongside us in the real world. These cries were heard by John Hanke, the chief executive of Niantic Labs, the company behind the technology responsible for Pokémon Go. Hanke has said that this April Fools Prank inspired him to develop the software that would support the unique feature. Fast forward to July 6th, 2016 and, voila, Pokémon Go is released to the public by Pokemon Co and Niantic.

Who’d have known that an April Fools joke would inspire arguably the most significant trend of 2016 and a beginning to a new generation of gameplay technology!

Google, you never fail to amaze me.

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People! Just say Something!
People! Just say Something!
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