april fools!

In the UK, and several countries around the world, April 1st is known as April Fool’s Day. It’s a day for playing jokes and pranks on people and, if they fall for it, they are then labelled an April Fool. The celebration is similar to the Spanish festival ‘El Día de los Inocentes’, but in the UK tradition you can only play a prank on someone up to midday. If you try to trick someone in the afternoon, then you are the April Fool. Historians believe that it has been a regular celebration in the UK since at least the 1700´s, but what is the origin of this bizarre tradition?

Well, actually no one knows! There are a few theories but all seem flawed. One theory from France, where an April Fool is labelled an April Fish, relates to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Until then, using the Julian calendar, the new year was celebrated in spring but from 1582 it was moved to January 1st. The theory states that some people were slow to make the change and those who still celebrated the new year in spring were known as April Fools. However, even before this date some people were celebrating the new year on January 1st and it seems unlikely as an origin. 

Another theory links it to the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria where people would dress up in fancy dress costumes and try to fool each other, but Hilaria is believed to be based on an even older celebration from ancient Egypt.
One of the earliest pranks played was asking people to deliver a sealed message to someone else. The person receiving the message would then write another sealed message for the person to deliver and this would continue. But what did the message say? ‘Send the fool further’!

In 1860 many residents of London received an invitation to go to the Tower of London and witness the ‘Annual Ceremony of Washing the Lions’. It’s reported that hundreds of people turned up to see the lions and were very disappointed to learn that there aren’t any!

However, perhaps the most famous April Fool’s joke in the UK was played by the BBC in 1957. Being a reputable news source, you can surely rely on the BBC to only report facts? Well in 1957, Panorama, a current affairs show, produced a 3-minute report about the spaghetti trees of Switzerland. The video showed Swiss people harvesting spaghetti from their trees. It’s believed that around 8,000,000 watched the show and the following day hundreds of people called the BBC asking where they could get a spaghetti plant! 

The BBC ‘struck’ again in 1980 with an April Fool prank related to Big Ben. They reported that the famous bell and the clock were going to be replaced by a digital clock and a beeping sound called Digital Dave. BBC Japan took the joke even further by reporting that the original clock hands would be sold to the first four people to call them!

In 1998 Burger King fooled many people in the USA with the launch of their new product, the left-handed burger! It contained the same ingredients as a regular burger but everything was rotated for left-handed customers. Many people believed the ad and tried ordering left-handed or right-handed burgers! 

In 2018 Jeststar Japan, a low-cost airline, advertised a new form of in-flight entertainment; onboard karaoke! It would offer everything you’d find in a regular karaoke bar such as microphones, tambourines and maracas, but of course, there would be one very important thing missing; an exit for when the singing became too painful! And another airline, Emirates, announced in 2018 that their new aircraft would have a lounge with a transparent ceiling! 

These days more than ever, I think the world needs jokes and pranks, and long may April Fool’s Day continue. But if you hear or read anything on that day that seems too good to be true, perhaps take it with a pinch of salt.


Jon Iveson

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