April Fool’s Day: Why do we celebrate fools on the first of April?

What is it about the first day of April  that brings out the prankster, or the fool (you know who you are) in us?

So far today you’ve put toothpaste in your kid’s Oreos, brought mayo-filled Krispy Kremes to your co-workers, and placed a rubber band around the faucet sprayer as a surprise for your spouse.

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“It’s April Fools’ Day,” would likely be your defense, unless you do this sort of thing all the time. If you don’t, and it’s a seasonal thing, we get you.

What is it about the first day of April that brings out the prankster, or the fool (you know who you are) in us?

Here’s a quick look at the history, the mystery and the madness of April Fools’ Day.

The History

This is the short explanation – no one knows when or why April Fools’ Day was created. Theories as to the origin of the day of pranking range from holidays celebrated by the Romans and Hindus, -- the new year started for them around April 1 – to a riff on the Feast of the Annunciation or the vernal equinox.

Where does the “fool” part come in?

Again, the history is fuzzy on this, but in 1582 a new calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII that moved the first day of the new year to Jan. 1. The 1580s being what they were, news traveled a bit slow and some didn’t get the memo, so they continued to celebrate new year’s on April 1. The hipper, more calendar-wise set mocked these people, and often sent them on “fool’s errands.”

That explanation could, itself, be an April Fool’s joke, according to some.

Another theory holds that the day is tied to Hilaria, a Roman festival that saw people dressing in costume to celebrate the resurrection of the Roman God Attis. The festival was also known as Roman Laughing Day.

Some facts, trivia about April Fool’s Day

  • There is a vague reference to April Fools’ Day in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”
  • There is a record of the English playing practical jokes on each other beginning in 1700.
  • The Scots and the Irish sought out fools to ask them to deliver a letter. When the “fool” complied, the person they delivered the letter to came in on the joke and sent the “fool” to deliver it to another person. This went on until the “fool” caught on, or until it was April 2. In Scotland, the letter would read, “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.’
  • Since 536 B.C., Iranians have played jokes on the 13th day of the Persian New Year, which falls on April 1 or 2.
  • In France, kids tape paper fish to their friends’ backs as a way of acknowledging the fool.
  • Hindus in India and around the world celebrate the color festival of Holi around late March. Part of the celebration involves playing jokes on each other.
  • According to tradition, pranks should end by noon on April 1.

Notable pranks

  • Expedia offers customers trips to Mars for $99, claiming the buyer would save 3 trillion dollars.
  • In Los Angeles, airline passengers were greeted with a banner saying “Welcome to Chicago” after landing on April 1, 1992, CBS Sunday Morning previously reported.
  • In 1992, National Public Radio ran a spot with former President Richard Nixon saying he was running for president again. It wasn’t Nixon, it was a voice actor, but many believed the announcement was true.
  • As part of a 1997 April Fools’ Day joke, Alex Trebek, host of “Jeopardy,” swapped places with “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak, according to jeopardy.com.
  • In 1996, Taco Bell ran a full-page ad in major newspapers telling consumers it had purchased the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and would be renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell.”
  • One of the best came from the BBC in 1957 which aired a spot that said spaghetti crops in Switzerland would be doing particularly well that year, then had footage of a woman picking strands off a “spaghetti tree” and laying them in the sun to dry.
  • In 1975, an Australian TV station announced the country would change to a metric time system using mill days, centidays and decidays.
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