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April Fools’ Day (April 1) is the one date on the calendar when jokes and mischief are expected. But how did April Fools’ Day get its start? Learn more about the history of April Fools’ Day—including some fun humor throughout the years!
When is April Fools’ Day?
April Fools’ Day occurs annually on April 1. In 2024, it falls on a Monday.
Don’t get fooled. The correct way to write this day is “April Fools’ Day.” It’s been April Fools’ Day since the 1800s. Why? If you know your apostrophes, then you know that putting the apostrophe after an S means it’s a plural. There isn’t just one fool on this day; there are many pranksters running around!
Origin of April Fools’ Day—How did it all start?
The origin of April Fools’ Day is unknown, but theories place its start hundreds of years ago. Some theorize that the idea of April Fools’ Day dates back to ancient Rome and a festival called Hilaria held at the end of March, where people would dress up in disguises and mock or imitate others.
Many folklorists believe it may go back to 16th-century France. Charles IX decreed that the new year would begin on January 1. (Back in those times, New Year’s Day was around Easter and spring festivals with a whole week of partying. Some folks were slow to catch on to the change, continuing to celebrate the new year. They quickly became the victim of jokes and pranks, including having paper fish put on their backs and labeled a “poisson d’avril,” meaning April fish.
In Scotland, people would send others on phony errands called “hunting the gowk,” as well as pin fake tails or kick me signs on the unsuspecting.
Some believe that the term “All Fools,” was probably meant as a deliberate stab at All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2) Day.
April Fools’ Day and the Vernal Equinox
The timing of April Fools’ Day is suspiciously close to the Vernal Equinox—this year on March 20.
It is the time of year when Mother Nature is known to play tricks on us all with unpredictable changes to the weather, including:
In 1923, temperatures reached –34°F in Bergland, Michigan.
In 1960, up to 10 inches of heavy snow fell in eastern South Dakota causing some highways to close due to difficulty plowing the heavy snow.
In 1997, a blizzard from Maryland to Maine resulted in power outages and roads impassable. East Jewett, New York recorded 37 inches and 25.4 inches fell in Boston, Massachusetts.
April Fools’ Day Pranks in History
April Fools’ Day is all about getting someone to fall for a prank or a made-up story. But some take it a step further:
On April 1, 1905, Berliner Tageblatt, a German newspaper, reported that thieves dug a tunnel under the U.S. treasury and stole $268 million in silver and gold.
In 1957, the BBC aired a story on how Swiss farmers were experiencing a bumper crop for spaghetti, complete with video of people harvesting noodles from trees. Here’s the video:
In 1962, SVT (Sveriges Television) was the only TV station in Sweden—broadcast in black and white— and it announced that viewers could convert their existing sets to display color by pulling a nylon stocking over the screen.
In 1983, Boston University professor Joseph Boskin created a story about the origin of April Fools’ Day when speaking to an AP reporter. He said the day originated when Roman Emperor Constantine agreed to let one of his jesters, “Kugel,” become “king for a day.” Boskin, of course, made the entire story up.
In 1985, Sports Illustrated published a fictitious story by George Plimpton about a never-before-heard-of pitching prospect by the name of Sidd Finch, who could throw a baseball 168 miles per hour.
In 1992, NPR aired an interview with Richard Nixon where he declared his intention to run for president again. It was, of course, not Richard Nixon, but rather an actor.
On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and would rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.
In 1998, Burger King took out a full-page ad in USA Today announcing its development of the Left-Handed Whopper. The burger had the usual toppings, but they were turned 180 degrees so they wouldn’t drip on left-handed customers.
In 2002, the British supermarket chain Tesco published an advertisement in The Sun, announcing a genetically modified ‘whistling carrot.’ The carrots were said to be grown with tapered air holes in their side and when fully cooked, the holes would cause the carrot to whistle.
A 2008 BBC broadcast tricked viewers into believing that a certain breed of penguins had displayed the ability to fly.
A 2014 story on NPR included the headline “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” The headline created considerable outrage, but only by those who did not actually click on the link to read the story. If they had, readers would have found: “Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools’ Day!
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