Why We Celebrate April Fools' Day—And Where the Pranks Came From

Whether it's a playful joke or a shocking tale, many of us have fallen for some sort of April Fools' Day joke. Every year I spend the first day of April on high alert, but I've never stopped to consider how April 1 became the official day for pranks.

Historians place the first April Fools' Day around 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. In the old calendar, the new year was celebrated on April 1—so those who were slow to adapt to the new calendar looked silly when they were still celebrating in April, rather than on January 1 with everyone else. These people were eventually called 'April Fools,' and friends or family members would play pranks on them.

Eventually, the tradition spread across Europe and to the United States, and by the 1800s, April Fools' Day was a full-on holiday filled with pranks, jokes, and tricks. While the premise of the holiday hasn't changed much since then, the pranks have certainly gotten more elaborate over the years.

Clare Farrelly / Austockphoto / Adobe Stock

When Is April Fools' Day?

April Fools' Day is always celebrated on April 1st, no matter what day of the week it falls on. This year, April Fools' Day is Friday, April 1, 2022.

Iconic April Fools' Day Pranks Throughout History

April Fools' Day pranks aren't limited to friends and family! Companies and news outlets have been playing April Fools' Day jokes on people for decades, and we've rounded up the best ones.

In 1957, a show aired on BBC that announced a large spaghetti harvest by Swiss farmers. The television was still pretty new at that time, so viewers weren't suspecting their nightly news to play an April Fools' prank on them.

After so many years of pranks, anyone tuning into BBC on April 1 should be expecting a good story. In 1980, the network broadcast an announcement that London's Big Ben (the city's iconic clock tower) was being redone with a digital clock—an announcement that did not go over well.

In 1986, French news outlet Le Parisien announced the Eiffel Tower was going to be torn down and rebuilt inside Disneyland Paris. Thankfully, Parisians can confirm that this did not actually happen.

In 1987, Norwegian citizens got word that the government was giving out 10,000 liters of confiscated wine. It was only when people showed up carrying empty bottles and containers that they learned this wasn't true.

In 1989, anyone tuning into a Seattle comedy radio show heard the news that the iconic Space Needle had fallen down. Luckily, the Space Needle survived the holiday and still stands today.

In 1996, Taco Bell published newspaper ads announcing the brand had purchased the Liberty Bell as a way to lower the national debt. After announcing it was a joke, the chain donated $50,000 for the care and preservation of the bell.

In 2015, toilet paper brand Cottonelle announced it was releasing a special line of left-handed toilet paper, which left a lot of people confused.

As the holiday approaches this year, be on the lookout for pranks like these, and double-check the calendar if you hear any news that seems too wild to be true. On the first of the month, keep an eye on the pranksters in your family or friend group who may try to get you so they can yell 'April Fools!' And of course, you can pull a few April Fools' Day jokes of your own too—there's plenty of time to come up with one.