Here it is again, April Fools Day. Undoubtedly everyone has some story about a hoax they played or a hoax played upon them on April 1st. Some pranks are truly amusing, others may not be so funny to the person pranked.
Where did this “holiday” begin? Apparently this is something of a mystery and there are a variety of speculative answers. The Romans celebrated a day called Hilaria on March 25 “rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis”, a god of vegetation.
Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University has a different take on the day. In 1983 Associated Press quoted the professor’s claim that the celebration began during the reign of Constantine because a group of court jesters told the emperor they could do a better job of running the empire. Constantine apparently found this amusing and gave a jester named Kugel the job of “King for a Day”. Kugel, delighted with his new role however temporary proclaimed April 1st to be a day of pranks and absurdity and the celebrations became an annual event. Newspapers everywhere picked up the story. A few weeks later the truth came out. Professor Boskin had played the best prank of all having made the story up!
In France and French speaking parts of Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland April 1st is called April Fish. (This is also true in parts of Italy.) There is a tradition of attaching a paper fish to the back of the person to be pranked without being discovered. School children will shout out “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is revealed.
In the UK it is said anyone who plays an April Fool’s prank after noon is a fool himself. My mother was born and raised in Ireland used to tell me this as a child. So this year in honor of my mother I will follow her rule and not play any pranks after noon.
Apparently the Brits have a great sense of humor when it comes to April Fools’ jokes. In 1957 BBC showed Swiss farmers harvesting spaghetti, claiming the destructive “spaghetti weevil” had been obliterated. The BBC received hundreds of calls asking how to grow spaghetti trees. CNN has called this “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”. Not satisfied with this coup in 1965 the station claimed to be conducting a trial of a new technology that would allow viewers to smell over the airwaves. Once again viewers called in to report the trials were a success and they had in fact “smelled” the broadcast. (They did this again in 2007!) Breaking new prank ground in 2008 they said a colony of flying penguins had been discovered. Penguins were purportedly tracked from Antarctica to the Amazon.
Not to be outdone Taco Bell jumped on the April Fools’ bandwagon. The fast food company took out a full page ad in the NY Times announcing they wanted to help reduce the national debt. They had purchased the Liberty Bell and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. Then White House Press Secretary followed up with a joking statement that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and was now known as the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
A delightful list of some of the best hoaxes appears on the Museum of Hoaxes website.
If you can’t resist and simply must play a trick on someone remember what goes around, comes around. Happy April Fools’ Day.
**(Attis (ăˈtĭs) [key] or Atys āˈ–, in Phrygian religion, vegetation god. When Nana ate the fruit of the almond tree, which had been generated by the blood of either Agdistis or of Cybele, she conceived Attis. Later, Agdistis or Cybele fell in love with Attis, and so that none other would have him, she caused him to castrate himself. Like Adonis, Attis came to be worshiped as a god of vegetation, responsible for the death and rebirth of plant life. Each year at the beginning of spring his resurrection was celebrated in a festival. In Roman religion he became a powerful celestial deity. http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/society/attis.html)