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The Origins of April Fools Day
If you go back far enough in history you will find that most cultures celebrated New Year’s Eve in the spring time. Since the spring equinox occurred in late March or early April this was when the New Year was observed.
Around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year was celebrated at this time though there is some debate however as to whether it was the first showing of the moon after the spring equinox or the first full moon.
Spring is the time of new life, new beginnings and the time when the Earth comes back to life after her slumber over the winter months. It stands to reason that the ancient people of the world would take the spring equinox as the beginning of their year. If I was stuck inside for a few months due to freezing weather I believe that I would be celebrating when the weather started to warm up as well.
The early Catholic Church condemned the celebrations of New Years Eve as paganism. As Christianity became more widespread however the early church began making many of the pagan celebrations theirs.
By the Middle Ages New Year’s Eve was celebrated from the 25th March to the 1st April. In 1564 the King of France Charles IX after travelling around his kingdom and finding that different areas celebrated New Year's on different dates created the edict of Roussillon making everyone celebrate New Year’s on 1st January.
This tradition spread around the world and is why we now celebrate New Year’s Eve on the 1st January each year instead of at spring equinox. Yes I do know that not all cultures celebrate New Year’s Day on the 1st January.
So it’s said that after the date was changed that some people did not wish to change the date of New Year’s Day and that these people were teased for this and jokes were played on them. It is also reported that they were called April fools or April idiots. This was common during the 16th Century.
Humourous Pranks of Ancient times
In France they celebrated Poisson d’avril (April’s fish) where a paper fish was attached to someone’s back without their knowledge.
In Italy they celebrated Pesce d’ aprile (April’s fish) basically the same trick was played.
In Belgium the tradition was to try to lock your parents or teachers outside and only let them back in if they promised to bring treats that evening.
In Denmark they celebrated Aprilsnar they would get their fool to go on errands for them running of course.
In Scotland they celebrated Hunt the Gowk day (Gowk is a foolish person) they would send the fool running to someone with a sealed envelope which read "Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile". That person would then place the note into another envelope sealing it and send the poor unfortunate gowk to someone else.
In Ireland a similar practice was celebrated either using the same words as the Scott’s or using the words "send the fool further."
In England the same trick was played and the words were nearly the same “Don’t laugh, Don’t smile. Send the Fool another mile”. The unlucky fool was sent running from one end of town to the other for the entire day. (From cobbler to smithy to tanner etc.)
In Poland they celebrated Prima Aprils (April 1) here the tricks got even more amazing as the media of the time used to help to make the trick more realistic by publishing information in their papers etc. Interestingly the BBC seems to have taken up this mantle and has been publishing April fools news items for many years.
More Modern April fools pranks
I believe these are some of the best pranks that I have read about and are really amusing.
1860 – Many people in London got the following invitation - Admit Bearer and Friend to view annual ceremony of Washing the White Lions on Sunday, April 1, 1860. Heaps of people turned up to the Tower of London. The best part of this is that this prank had been played a few times since 1698 and that no lions had been kept here for centuries.
1878 – The New York Graphic said that Thomas Edison had invented a machine that could change soil into cereal and water into wine. Yep you got it people believed it. I wonder if anyone tried to make one of these machines after finding out that it was a prank. Sadly I may never know but the chances are pretty good that someone would have had to try it.
1915 – A French pilot dropped a bomb shaped object into a German camp. It was in fact a large football with a note tied to it saying “April Fool”. What a brilliant prank to play in the middle of World War 1. I wish I knew what the name of the pilot was as this really is one for the history books.
1934 – The New York Times printed an article about a new invention. A “lung-powered motor” which allowed the German pilot Erich Kocher to fly. The photo showed the man with skis on his feet for landing and a tail fin to let him steer. How inventive were they to think up such an interesting prank.
Let’s not forget the war of the world’s radio broadcast of October 1938. Yes I know it wasn’t aired on April 1st however it was an amazing prank don’t you think?
1957 – The BBC showed the following footage as a documentary programme. By all accounts many people believed that spaghetti was therefore grown on trees and harvested when ready. I love this footage it is really well done don’t you think.
1957 BBC April Fools day
1965 – BBC did it again when they aired an interview with a professor who had just amazingly invented “smellovision”. They ever brewed some coffee and cut onions in the studio to allow everyone at home to be a party to this most wondrous invention. The funniest part is that a lot of people wrote and called in to say that they had definitely smelt the whole experiment. People sure do embrace these experiments wholeheartedly don’t they?
1976 – A British astronomer told everyone on a BBC radio that the planet Pluto was going to pass behind Jupiter causing a temporary gravitational alignment at 9.47am. He said that if they jumped into the air they would experience a floating feeling. Hundreds of people rang up saying they felt it. One woman said that she and her friends had even floated around the room. I guess she had a very good imagination,
2008 - One more from BBC. It is rather good if you wish to watch it.