There are many theories about how April Fools’ started, so pick your favorite from some of the most popular origin stories. One such story says April Fools’ Day comes to us from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where the fox tricks the rooster on March 32nd. Another story says it began during the First Century, when court jesters and fools told Roman emperor Constantine they could do a better job of running the empire. Amused, the emperor allowed a jester to be king for one day. Another group believes it began in 1582, when the Pope ordered the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, moving New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1. Those who didn’t get the news – and that was a lot of people back in those days – continued to celebrate the start of the new year on April 1st. Those in the know made fun of them.
In an origin story with a biblical twist, the London Public Advertiser said in 1769 “It is an old custom on All Fool’s Day to play pranks at the expense of others, such as sending people on fool’s errands, putting salt in the sugar bowl and telling improbable fibs,” They traced the origin of All Fools’ Day to Noah sending out the dove to look for land. “And behold, the dove returned to him in the evening with a freshly-plucked olive leaf in her beak, so Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.” -Genesis 8:11.
Most of us have forgotten that the dove was the second bird Noah sent out to look for land
A week earlier, Noah had sent out a raven that never came back. Did Noah prank the raven?
Pranks and hoaxes
Pranks can be in good fun, but they tend to be more malicious, destructive and sophomoric things such as TP-ing trees and putting a tack on someone’s seat.
Hoaxes are another thing altogether
A hoax is a mischief-making deception. The best ones are bits of fiction presented seriously, as if they were real. The more preposterous the hoax, the more we laugh at those who fell for it. In 1938, terrified listeners heard War of the Worlds on their radios. Thousands panicked. It shined a light on Orson Welles, who went on to write, produce, star in Citizen Kane.
Here are a few notable April Fools’ hoaxes
- In 1749, two nobles made a bet. One said Londoners were such fools that they would buy tickets to see a man who promised they could watch him squeeze his entire body into a regular wine bottle – something clearly impossible. The theater sold out, no performer showed up and the audience rioted.
- in 1980, the BBC reported Big Ben would change to a digital display and its clock hands would be given away to the first callers. Switchboards were flooded.
- In 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” that was designed for left-handed Americans by rotating all the condiments exactly 180 degrees. Thousands of people lined up to buy it.
“Boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you spaghetti grows on trees.”
That’s what an Austrian teacher used to tell his class. Ars Technica says one of the boys in that class later put together a short documentary for the BBC’s Panorama, a popular current affairs program. Viewers watched as a Swiss family “harvested” the long strings of spaghetti from the trees in their orchard. Hundreds called the BBC wanting to know where they could buy the spaghetti trees they saw on the telly. You can watch the two-minute video here.
If you want to prank someone or perpetrate a hoax, do it on any day but the one where they most expect it.
Half of us like April Fools’ Day and half of us don’t
The difference of opinion is likely to be related to which side of the prank you are on. The most avid pranksters are under 30.
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If the raven never returned, that would have left a widow or widower raven on board, wouldn’t it?
Orson Welles co-wrote Citizen Kane with Herman J. Mankiewicz, the grandfather of Joe Mankiewicz, the host of Turner Classic Movies.