By Kate Murphy
Pranks and practical jokes can be the best or the worst part of April Fools’ Day. It’s a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. So why is it a thing?
While the exact origin of the annual day remains a mystery, here are some theories.
Some historians think it originated in the 16th century, when Pope Gregory XIII switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The change moved the first day of the year up to January, so those who didn’t get the memo looked foolish for celebrating the New Year on April 1. Those people became the butt of the joke.
To add insult to injury, paper fish were attached to their backs. They were teased as “April fish,” meaning a young, easily caught fish or a gullible person. But at least it’s not as bad as a “kick me” sign.
Historians also believe April Fools’ Day is rooted in renewal festivals, marking the end of winter and the blossoming of spring. Those celebrations involved dressing in disguises and playing tricks on people.
Another theory that’s no laughing matter — the French Revolution. Historians say after the French people deposed King Louis XVI on April 1, 1789, King George III decided to play a little joke. He pretended to step down, and when the peasants celebrated their newfound freedom in the streets, they were arrested and put in prison.
Another theory that’s been debated is the reference to April Fools’ Day in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” a fox plays a trick on a rooster. But what’s unsure is when it happened. The line in question is “syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.” Some interpret this as 32 days after March 1, while others think it’s March 32, which would be April 1.
Over the years, the media has had a field day with some pretty memorable pranks.
In 1957, the BBC broadcast a trick film of Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti. The prank worked, as the BBC was inundated with inquiries about the plant.
In 1985, Sports Illustrated ran a fake article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch, who they claimed could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.
Taco Bell fooled people in 1996 when it announced it was going to purchase the Liberty Bell… with plans to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. When the jig was up, the company donated $50,000 to the upkeep of the famous bell in Philadelphia.
Burger King duped customers in 1998 with an ad in USA Today that plugged the “left-handed Whopper.” They broke the news to their customers, saying, “Everyone knows that it takes two hands to hold a Whopper!”
So whether you’re plotting pranks or end up becoming the butt of the joke, when it comes to why April Fools’ Day is a thing, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”
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