April Fools' Day: A Time For Pranks!

Apr 1, 2019 By Deepa Gopal
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Have you played a trick on someone, or been a victim of one on April 1?

April Fools' Day is widely celebrated around the world as a day when people play practical jokes on friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, and colleagues.

Many companies join in the fun too. This year, Google turned its Maps app into a classic video game called Snake. McDonald's in Australia announced it was introducing a McPickle burger which got many customers excited - the excitement, however, turned to anger when they realized it was an April Fools' prank!

How did this tradition start, and why is it such a popular day to be silly and lighthearted?

The True Story?

There are numerous stories about how April Fools' Day came to be.

One popular theory is that until the 16th century, European countries celebrated the New Year around vernal equinox which marked the beginning of Spring, and fell around April 1. In 1592, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world which started on January 1st.

Given that news traveled slowly in those days, there were some people who either didn’t know of this date change or didn’t want the change and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1st. These people were teased by others and sent on "fool errands,” and that tradition soon spread to other parts of Europe, and was introduced to the American colonies by the English and the French.

April Fools' Traditions

Today, each country celebrates April Fools' Day in its own way. In France, Italy, and parts of Canada, children fool their friends by sticking a paper fish to their friends' backs. When the "young fool" discovers this trick, the prankster yells "Poisson d’Avril!" or “April Fish!” because a young fish is easily caught. In Belgium, children lock out their parents or teachers on that day, only letting them in if they promise to bring treats. 

Americans play simple as well as elaborate tricks on friends and strangers on that day, making up false stories that sound believable. 

No matter how we celebrate it, April Fools' Day is meant to remind us not to take everything and everyone too seriously and in the famous words of American author Mark Twain "The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”

Famous Pranks

  • Spaghetti trees: England’s BBC TV ran a famous hoax on April 1, 1957, showing a Swiss family harvesting spaghetti (a type of popular noodle) from trees. A large number of people contacted the BBC to find out how to grow their own spaghetti trees!
  • Gravitational weight loss: In 1976, a British astronomer told radio listeners that an unusual alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 a.m. that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience "a strange floating sensation." Dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment had worked!
  • The Left-Handed Whopper: In 1998 the Burger King fast food chain ran a newspaper ad introducing a new "Left-Handed Whopper" or burger specially designed for left-handed Americans. According to the ad, the new whopper had the same ingredients as the original Whopper but all the condiments (mustard, ketchup, etc.) were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of the left-handed customers. Apparently, thousands of customers went to Burger King to request the new burger!

We would love to hear from you. Did you play pranks on anyone this year, and were they surprised? 

Sources: NYTimes, History