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- April Fools’ Day, sometimes called All Fools’ Day, is one of the most light-hearted days of the year. Its origins are uncertain. Some see it as a celebration related to the turn of the seasons, while others believe it stems from the adoption of a new calendar.
New Year’s Day Moves
Ancient cultures, including those of the Romans and Hindus, celebrated New Year’s Day on or around April 1. It closely follows the vernal equinox (March 20th or March 21st.) In medieval times, much of Europe celebrated March 25, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year.
- The date is fast approaching for that one day each year when clever, practical scheming is not just acceptable but, in fact, appreciated: April Fools’ Day. History suggests that people have been playing practical jokes on each other for hundreds of years, but how the holiday and the spirit behind it became official remains a bit of a mystery. Here are the most popular theories about how April Fools’ Day came to be and why we celebrate it today.
April Fools’ Day began in the year 1582, according to one legend, when Pope Gregory XIII (after whom the Gregorian calendar is named) moved the start of the new year from the end of March to the beginning of January. The change was made public, but not everyone got the memo, and those who didn’t and thus continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1 were laughed at. “Because they were seen as foolish, [they were] called April Fools,” medieval historian Ginger Smoak has explained, according to the Huffington Post.
- Consider this a warning: While you might be focusing on upcoming Easter or Passover celebrations, you could get blindsided by an April Fools’ Day prank on Wednesday.
Where did such an idea for a day come from, anyway?
The prevailing theory is a tale of two calendars. Julius Caesar came up with his own in 46 B.C., and honored Janus, the god of new beginnings, by starting the year off Jan. 1. When Christianity began taking hold, however, many Christians wanted to celebrate April 1 as New Year’s Day, because seasonally that day was closest to Easter. Since Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, starting the year on that day was a suiting commemoration.
Other cultures also saw April 1 as a fitting way to begin the year, as it was closest to the vernal equinox, the time when the whole earth was being renewed with springtime life.
- April Fools’ Day is more popular than ever thanks to the Internet, but before it existed, there were some absolutely incredible efforts that were so bizarre they actually fooled people en masse. Check out a few of our favorites, from way back when to modern hoaxes.
1. What, do you think spaghetti grows on trees?
In 1957, the BBC ran this 3-minute video on the air. Hundreds of calls came in after the segment asking about how to grow a spaghetti tree. Protip: You don’t.
- It can be hard to get a straight story on April Fools’ Day, but that’s part of the fun of this annual event. Come to think of it, why do we play pranks on April 1st out of all days of the year?
“It may stem from a calendar change in 16th century France — the moving of New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted,” CNN explained. “People who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st rather than the new date of January 1st were referred to as ‘April fools’ and others played tricks on them.”
Who knew April Fools had roots in religion? However, this origin story is still a product of speculation, as the origin of April Fools Day still remains a mystery.
100+ — Number of panicked Milton residents who called authorities on the evening of April 1, 1980, after a Channel 7 news report that 635-foot Great Blue Hill was erupting — complete with archival clips of flowing lava from Mount St. Helens and President Carter and Governor Ed King expressing worry; the program’s producer is fired on April 2.
One Week — The time it takes in 1998 for Mayor Tom Menino to get WAAF radio hosts Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia fired after they tell listeners he had died in a Florida car crash.
Two Months — The time it takes the shock jocks to be hired at a larger station in New York City.
- April Fools Day is a holiday where you can prank your friends, family and workmates with impunity and no one can really pull you up for it.
But when big companies and news outlets started getting in on the joke, things got messy on a much wider scale.
Here are our top 10 picks throughout history in no particular order.
1. One of the oldest recorded pranks was, ‘The Washing of the Lions’ in the moat at the Tower of London, for which a notice was put out around the town. A crowd had arrived at the gates to witness the ‘annual’ spectacle, to find that lions had not been kept in the tower for centuries. It remained a popular prank for decades after – with people even handing out official-looking tickets to the event to unsuspecting victims in the mid-nineteenth century. Now THAT’S dedication.