Year after year, April 1st rolls around, and the public waits with bated breath for the latest prank or ploy to hit the newspapers and social media. While it is becoming more and more difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses, now and then a company or individual will get it right and leave their unsuspecting victims red-faced at the fact that they have been duped.
Join us as we delve into the origins, history, and evolution of this famous globally celebrated day and take the time to enjoy some short stories of the best pranks ever carried out.
April Fool’s Day and its Origins
April Fool’s Day falls on the 1st of April every year. It is a traditional celebration of mischief and tomfoolery. Traditionally, individuals, companies, and corporates concoct ridiculous stories and events to trick other members of the public for the sake of a laugh.
With the help of circulated media, the internet, radio, and television, pranks can be broadcast to thousands of people, simultaneously. Part of the fun of the day is trying to decipher the real news from fake reports.
Did you know? The earliest recorded celebrations of April Fool’s Day go back to the 18th Century (the 1700s) where it was celebrated as a two-day event. The first day would involve sending people on phoney errands, while the second day involved playing pranks on one another, such as pinning fake tales or ‘kick me’ signs on people’s backs.
Although the true origin of this celebration and its trickster practices remains a mystery to this day, some have taken educated guesses as to where this tradition all started. Here are three good guesses:
✓ A Change in the Calendars
There is some speculation that April Fool’s Day dates back to the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar by the French in 1582.
The Julian Calendar instituted New Year’s Day around the Spring Equinox, which is roughly the 1st of April each year. Once the transition was made to the Gregorian Calendar, New Year fell to the 1st of January, but some people either failed to receive the news in time or outright refused to break from their long-formed traditions.
Either way, many continued to celebrate New Year’s during the last week of March to the dismay of others, who brandished them as ‘’April Fools’’.
Quick Fact: In the late 1500s, those who observed New Year’s Day on the 1st of April after the transition to the Gregorian calendar, became the victims of pranks and mockery. One of the most popular pranks included tagging a paper fish on their back of an unsuspecting person. This fish (called the ‘’April fish’’) alluded to someone gullible and easily caught.
This is honestly one of the most likely origins of the tradition, as the practices observed above fit the mould of the April Fool’s Day that we all know well today.
✓ Roman Ancestry
Educated historians have linked the possible genesis of April Fool’s Day to Ancient Roman culture, and specifically, the festival of Hilaria, practised by the Cybele cultists. This festival involved citizens disguising themselves in costumes and then mocking and pranking their kinsmen and other popular officials.
The roots of the festival seem to traditionally emanate from Egypt, where it received inspiration from mythological gods like Isis, Osiris, and Seth.
✓ Seasonal Swindle
The last credible speculation of the Origin of April Fool’s Day ties in with the vernal equinox. Many believe that the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere is a swindle of mother nature on the world. Some believe that she unleashes unpredictable weather to fool the people from one day to the next.
The Craziest Pranks in History
Over the centuries, pranks have gotten bigger and better. We can thank advancements in communication technology for this. Some of you might be astounded at the extent that people have gone to for a laugh. To capture the heart of the celebration, we have listed 5 of the best pranks ever recorded.
✓ Bathing Lions
The earliest recorded April Fool’s Day hoax on the history books hails from London in 1698, according to the website, ‘’Museum of Hoaxes’’.
Citizens of London were urged to attend the lion washing ceremony at the Tower of London to observe the annual bathing of Africa’s largest cats. Masses of people showed up only to realise that it was all a hoax.
The prank was a big hit and was pulled each year from then on, targeting visitors to London with great success each time. Eventually, the pranksters began printing tickets to the show, duping thousands of unknowing victims in the process.
✓ Branson’s UFO Airways
In 1989, Richard Branson (the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group) planned the ultimate April Fool’s Day prank for Hyde Park in London, however, the prank came a day earlier in the town of Surrey.
On the evening of March 31st, English residents in Surrey noticed a flying saucer hovering in the air and then landing in a nearby field. The police went to the field to investigate the phenomenon, only to meet a silver space suit-clad figure exiting the ‘flying saucer’. They were so spooked that reports say they ran away.
Richard Branson had been hiding in the flying saucer as well. It turns out that he and Don Cameron decked out a hot air balloon to look like an ‘other-worldly’ UFO to spoof Londoners in Hyde Park on April 1st. A change in wind conditions forced them to land the ‘sputnik’ a little earlier than expected.
While the desired outcome was different from what was planned, the result was still hilarious.
✓ The Liberty Bell Buy
Taco Bell, a famous food joint in the USA, ran a spoof newspaper ad in 1996, announcing their purchase of the Liberty Bell. While the initial take on the news may have seemed scandalous and received a negative response from the masses, it was undeniable that the old adage of “any exposure is good exposure’’ worked for the company and resulted in an upturn of business once the public realised it was a prank.
Did you know? Inspiration for the mobile game sensation, ‘’Pokémon Go’’ came from a fake April Fool’s Day prank instituted by Google in 2014. The massive multimedia company advertised that it would be releasing a game that would allow players to catch Pokémon characters in the real world using Google maps. While the news turned out to be fake, Niantic Labs took the joke and ran with it.
This prank became a pioneering feat that has altered the views of many companies when it comes to marketing. Since then, multiple businesses have used spoofs and jokes to draw attention to their brands.
✓ Spaghetti Trees Please
One of the most famous April Fool’s pranks took place in England on April 1st, 1957, when the BBC aired a fake news segment on “an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop” harvested in Ticino, Switzerland. The news feed even filmed people picking the pasta from trees and bushes.
While some viewers were upset that a stand-up newscaster would stoop to dupe the public with such fiction, other viewers enquired about how they could start their own spaghetti plantation at home.
✓ No Naked Beasts
Not even National Geographic has managed to avoid being a little mischievous over the years. A Twitter announcement in 2016 stated that the reputable publisher would no longer publish photos of naked animals. Instead, it posted a gallery of clothed creatures on social media to promote their newfound views on animal rights.
Their tweet read:
"The media group says that it will no longer degrade animals by showing photos of them without clothes."
Upon clicking through the pics, readers were met with an ‘’April Fools’’ notice amidst the gallery of adorably dressed dogs, cats, and more.
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