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April Fool's Origins

Updated on October 30, 2014

How the tradition of April Fools started?

This light hearted holiday has pretty uncertain origin. While popular media tries to explain it with adoptation of new calendar, we can safely presume this can be only partially true because the tradition of joking and hoaxing is many centuries older. It has pagan root for sure and it it is almost certainly closely related with change of seasons.

People celebrated the start of the spring for many centuries with festivals where masking and pranking were among favorite activities. But these celebrations were not on fixed dates and we need to dig a little deeper if we want to find another possibility of the origin. Profesor Joseph Boskin from boston University believes it all started about three or four centuries before Christ's birth in times of emperor Constantine.

A group of court fools and jesters supposedly came to him informing the emperor they can do better job at ruling the Roman empire than Constantine. He was obviously a man with good sense of humor, because he delegated one of the pranksters as a king for one day. His name was Kugel and he announced April 1st as the day of absurdities for ever.

There is at least one important historical fact supporting this theory: jesters were among wisest men in the court. Their job was not only to amuse kings with absolute powers and often very short temper, but they were also influential critics of ruler's actions. In many cases they were only people who could challange rulers' dcisions without risking sudden death.

(image credit: wikimedia commons, all used images are public domain)

What do you think?

Profesor Boskin presented this story to newspapers in March 1983, just about time to spread the info through media before he admited - he made it up. In this case journalists were the victims of April's prank

The secret of April Fools' success

It's pretty simple. People like to believe sensational, breathtaking and unbelievable stuff. History is full of hoaxes which were sometimes discovered only centuries after the original prankster already died. Good example is Shroud of Turin. This linen cloth was found in 14 century in France and is supposedly wrapped about the body of Jesus Christ just after the crucifixion.

Right after 'discover' a bishop declared it as a scam, an artist confessed he painted blood stains in the form of body. But people obviously wanted to believe. In next centuries about 40 similar cloths were presented and all were declared as hoaxes. Only 'original' still has supporters. In 20th century three independent labs analyzed it with the method of radioactive carbon. All found the linen comes from 13th or 14th century, but believers think tests are not appropriate because they only shoved the age of sediments of micro organisms on the cloth.

Believer will always believe. This is beautiful example of how our minds work!

The legendary prank by BBC

One of the most famous hoaxes on April fools Day is BBC's report about spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. It was done so convincing, huindreds of watchers called the station asking how could the grow up their very own spaghetti tree.

BBC responded with typical British manner. They suggested to put some pasta in tomato sauce and hope for the best.

BBC followed a good punch with more

We can say this media prank started another tradition where all the major newspapers and televisions began pranking their audience on every single April 1st.

Here are few of hoaxes made by BBC:

In 1961 they invited people to the concert of famous pianist Lirpa Loof. Although the prank is obvious - just read the name backwards - a lot of people came. Some really expected the musical event and some to have a good laugh at them.

In 1965 BBC presented new invention called smellovision - system which transports smell through television screens. There was also a demonstration and several people reported not only they smelt onion, but their eyes watered as well. This experiment was not only fun, it also tells a lot about the power of suggestion.

In 1976 BBC 2 (Radio) reported of rare astronomical situation. Thanks to Pluto being right behind the Jupiter the gravity on Earty will become zero for a moment. They told people to jump at precise moment, so they could feel strange sensation. Of course several listeners not only claimed they felt it, some even reported about floating through the room and one angry listener even hit his head ...

We can go on and on - from the famous Big Ben going digital to hair restoring well and it is not clear where we can find more humor - at pranksters or at their 'victims'. Maybe this is the best way to start search for the April Fool's origins. It takes (at least) two for a good laugh!

It's always better to be a witty fool than being known as the foolish wit.

— William Shakespeare

My resources

This is a list of my resources where you can find an additional info.

What is your opinion?

Do you celebrate April Fool's Day?

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We are not the only ones

Many cultures celebrate (or celebrated) similar holiday at the end of March. On Roman calendar it is called Hilaria, on Jewish it is Purim and in Hindu it is known as Holi. Like it or not, it is obvious we all like jokes and all kinds of tricks, no matter how old, educated, rich or whatever we are.

This should be no surprise if we consider the fact humor is one of the rare features humans have and majority of other living beings not. It was discovered only at primates, dolphins and other highly intelligent creatures. Higher the IQ, higher ability to make pranks. Are our brains actually designed for joking? This is probably the question for scientists to explore in next decades!

What do you think about April Fool's origins?

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    • HandyHelper profile image

      HandyHelper 3 years ago

      @anonymous: Nothing better than a fine prank!

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      I've been known to pull a few pranks here and there. Very cool lens!

    • HandyHelper profile image

      HandyHelper 3 years ago

      @KimGiancaterino: It's always next year!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 3 years ago

      I escaped any pranks this April ... whew!