Why Is April Fools Day Celebrated?
March 31, 2011
April Fools Day, observed on the first of April, is not a legal holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day which tolerates practical jokes, general foolishness and other forms of mischief. Some people love to spend days thinking up gags to pull on their friends and family, while others love a little impromptu prank here and there.
April Fools Day: One of the Most Light-hearted Days of the Year
Unlike other holidays, the history of April Fool’s Day, sometimes called All Fools Day, is unclear. There really wasn’t a “first April Fool’s Day” that can be pinpointed on the calendar.
Its history might be uncertain, but some people believe it began around 1582 in France with the reform of the calendar under Charles IX. The Gregorian Calendar was introduced, and New Year’s Day was moved from March 25 – April 1 (new year’s week) to January 1.
However, traditionalists of that time refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1. These backward folks were labeled as “fools” by the general public. They were ridiculed and were often the butt of other practical jokes. Over time, this evolved into a tradition of prank-playing on the first day of April.
- It coincides with the arrival of spring, when nature “fools’” mankind with fickle weather, according to the Encyclopedia of Religion and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
- It may have something to do with the Vernal Equinox.
- It ties in the Roman’s end-of-winter celebration, Hilaria, and the end of the Celtic New Year Festival.
Wherever and whenever the custom began, April 1st has given rise to its own lore and set of unofficial rules. The tradition eventually spread to England and Scotland in the eighteenth century. It was later introduced to the American colonies of both the English and French. April Fool’s Day thus developed into an international fun fest with different nationalities specializing in their own brand of humor at the expense of their friends and families.
Examples of practical jokes from around the world, the food industry and the media
- Iceberg Towed: In 1983, Australian millionaire businessman Dick Smith claimed to have towed an iceberg from Antarctica to Sydney Harbour. He used a barge covered with white plastic and fire extinguisher foam to convince witnesses
- Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to “reduce the country’s debt” and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied tongue-in-cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Lincoln Mercury Memorial
- Game Show Host Switch: In 1997, Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak switched hosting duties. Sajak hosted Jeopardy and Trebek hosted Wheel of Fortune where Sajak and Vanna White played as contestants
- Left-handed Whoppers: In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, saying that people could get a Whopper for left-handed people whose condiments were designed to drip our of the right side. Not only did customers order the new burgers, but some specifically requested the “old”, right-handed burger.
It has become tradition on the first of April to pull jokes of the harmless variety on those near and dear to us.
The “fools’ errands” we play on people are practical jokes. Putting salt in the sugar bowl for the next person is not a nice trick to play on a stranger. College students set their clocks an hour behind, so their roommates show up to the wrong class – or not at all. Some practical jokes are kept up the whole day before the victim realizes what day it is. Most April Fool jokes are in good fun and not meant to harm anyone. April Fool’s Day is a “for-fun-only” observance. Nobody is expected to buy gifts or to take their “significant other” out to eat in a fancy restaurant. Nobody gets off work or school. The cleverest April Fool’s joke is the one where everyone laughs, especially the person upon whom the joke is played. How the custom of pranking on April 1 came about remains cloaked in mystery.
DetailXPerts wants to know who you would say is the easiest person to pull a prank on:
Your closest friend,
Your boss/teacher or
Your brother or sister?
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