The 1st April, better known as “April Fool’s Day” is a time for playing jokes. Most newspapers and TV stations run a silly story. While some are marginally believable, others are so silly they couldn’t possibly be true. Now, it’s become a point for families to play tricks on each other with some old favourites refusing to die. How did this bizarre tradition start and why?
A History of April Fool’s Day
This is a much older tradition than we realise. The first known mention of modern April Fool’s Day is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. In the story Nun’s Priest’s Tale, he refers to a date “32nd of March” in which a fox tricks a cockerel. While Chaucer is credited for the modern observance, it could go back much further than this.
The Romans had a series of festivals called “Hilaria”, one of which fell on the March equinox. It was a festival of fun and merriment in honour of the goddess Cybele. Practical jokes did not seem part of the proceedings for the spring event, although this could have grown as part of informal celebrations.
There are many legends about its true origin but few have been verified. One that could turn out to be true centres on the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar. When New Year moved to 1st January from 25th March, it seemed that many people tried to fool their friends and family into believing the change had not happened and they should be marking the arrival of a new year. This too is tentative.
There appears to be no explanation for why a trickster must fool another before midday or the April Fool is on them or that they will experience bad luck.
Some of the Best April Fool’s Jokes
The media now has a tradition of publishing news items and stories to fool the reader and the viewer. The most famous and arguably the one that started it all came in 1957. Richard Dimbleby reported that the arrival of an early spring that year prompted a bumper spaghetti harvest in Italy. The report was complete with trees with long strings of hanging spaghetti. The BBC switchboard on the day was overwhelmed with phone calls enquiring where people could buy a spaghetti tree.
The Canadian government introduced the two-dollar coin in February 1996. It is known as a “twoney” after the slang for the one Canadian dollar coin “looney”. On April Fool’s Day that year, a radio news report released information about a batch of twoneys mistakenly made with gold. People frantically searched their homes and even enquired in shops before the joke was revealed.
Who can forget That’s Life’s “Lirpa Loof”? A story on the magazine programme reported the arrival of a rare ape-like creature at London Zoo rescued from the Himalayas. The video showed the creature copying the actions of curious visitors. The story fooled some people, but many saw the obvious clue in the name.
It isn’t just the media that pulls pranks. In 1996, Sheila Copps, a Canadian MP, declared that Ottawa’s iconic Peace Tower Clock was to be removed and replaced with a digital version. In 2015, a Democrat in the American senate introduced a bill to ban over-long names for legislation as a response to politicians trying to be clever in naming new bills. The name? Accountability and Congressional Responsibility On Naming Your Motions (ACRONYM).
But let’s not ignore famous businesses in this list. In recent years, Burger King has given us left-handed burgers and Whopper-scented perfume. We’ve also had clear Marmite, Groupon offering courses to learn to speak “dog” and the reintroduction of hippos to the South Downs National Park.