April Fools’ Day is one of the most widely recognized non-religious holidays…but why? What is the origin of this day and its traditions?
Apparently, the origin of April Fools’ Day is up for debate. The tradition is apparently older than 1708 which is when we have the first recorded mention. In a 1708 letter to Britain’s Apollo magazine it asks, “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?” Apparently, in 1708 the origin wasn’t widely known either.
One possibility is that it evolved from Hilaria which was a Roman tradition held in late March during the equinox. The festivities included games, processions, and masquerades.
In 1561, a Flemish poet wrote about a nobleman who sends his servant back and forth on ludicrous errands in preparation for a wedding feast (the poem’s title roughly translates to “Refrain on errand-day / which is the 1st of April”). The first mention of April Fools’ Day in Britain comes in 1686 when biographer John Aubrey described April 1st as a “Fooles holy day.” On April Fools’ Day in 1698, a prank was played on hundreds who were tricked into going to the Tower of London to watch the “washing of the lions” (a ceremony that doesn’t exist). The April 2nd edition of a local newspaper had to debunk the hoax —and publicly mock those who fell for it.
In the spirit of April Fools’ Day, here’s some of the greatest historical pranks, practical jokes, and hoaxes according to Reader’s Digest:
· 1400’s: Thomas Betson, the prankster-monk, pulls off one of the earliest documented practical jokes when he hides a beetle inside a hollowed-out apple and fools his fellow monks into believing that the mysteriously rocking apple is possessed.
· 1835: The Great Moon Hoax is the first big media trick. The New York Sun prints an article claiming that astronomers have discovered life on the moon. More articles appear over the next few weeks, and the country is gripped by moon fever.
· 1938: Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of War of the Worlds convinces millions of listeners that earth is under attack by aliens.
· 1957: A BBC News documentary about the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest depicts farmers pulling strands of spaghetti from trees. The network is deluged with callers asking where they can buy a spaghetti tree.
· 1959: Alan Abel dreams up a campaign calling for animals to wear clothing, and the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals is born. Spokesperson G. Clifford Prout appears on Today to promote the group’s catchy slogan: “A nude horse is a rude horse.” Eventually, 50,000 concerned citizens sign its petition, and even Walter Cronkite is fooled—until it’s discovered that Prout is actually comedian Buck Henry.
· 1962: The broadcasting technician for Sweden’s lone television station appears on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers can convert the existing black-and-white broadcasts into color. All they have to do is pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen. Thousands try it.
· 1978: Residents of Sydney, Australia, gawk at an iceberg floating in Sydney Harbor on April 1, which electronics entrepreneur Dick Smith claimed he towed from Antarctica. The Australian navy even offer their help in mooring it. Eventually, everyone realizes it’s just a barge covered in white plastic and fire-fighting foam.
· 1980: The BBC World Service (then called oversea’s service) reports that each of Big Ben’s four faces would be changed to a digital display and its iconic hands would be given away to the first four callers. While most listeners are shocked and angry, one Japanese seaman immediately calls to claim his prize.
· 1985: Sports Illustrated runs a story about Sidd Finch, a Mets rookie pitcher with odd training methods who can throw a baseball 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy, even though he’s never played the game before. Instead, he mastered the “art of the pitch” in the mountains of Tibet. In reality, Finch exists only in the mind of the author George Plimpton.
· 1996: Taco Bell announces it has bought the Liberty Bell and is renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Outraged citizens complain to the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, where the bell is housed.
· 1997: The chemical compound DHMO is “colorless, odorless, and kills thousands of people every year” through “accidental inhalation,” reads a widely circulated e-mail, calling for a ban. Furthermore, it’s now “a major component of acid rain” and is “found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America.” One California town becomes so alarmed that residents debate banning foam cups, which are shown to contain DHMO. They nix the idea upon learning that DHMO is actually water.
· 1998: Burger King introduces a new item to its menu: the Left-Handed Whopper, specially designed for southpaws. According to the company, the new Whopper includes the same ingredients as the original version, but all the condiments are rotated 180 degrees.
· 2004: At the annual Yale-Harvard football game, Yale students, dressed as the Harvard pep squad, distribute placards to their rival’s fans. On cue, the Harvard faithful lift them up and unwittingly spell “We Suck.”
Enjoy your day!