April Fool’s Day, Childish Mischief or Ingenious Merriment?
All Fools’ Day or April Fool’s is an ancient celebration with universal roots. A day perceived as cheerful and mischievous, childish and absurd, its appeal to the human sense of humor and intellect is what probably made it last throughout the years. Or perhaps that breaking down the general barriers for just one day and shining a different light on life is just the tonic humanity needs, thinks sociologist Jonathan Wynn.
April Fool’s origin
2000 years ago Romans celebrated Hilaria (Latin for “happiness”) at the end of March, a day of fun and nonsense when people would dress up in disguises. The Northern Hemisphere displays unpredictable weather during this time of the year, playing tricks on people so here’s another speculation for April 1st as for centuries humanity took their cues from and looked for answers in nature. Around the same time Hindus celebrate Holi, the Festival of Color, one of the few non-religious Hindu celebrations of merrymaking and generally “letting loose”. The Jewish Purim, a lively and fun festival, is also celebrated mid-March. Surprising how this time of the year brings merriment and well-being all around the world!
Another explanation for April Fool’s is that during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine a group of court jesters proclaimed that they will be able to do a better job at running the empire than he did. In those times court fools were wise people, held in high regard. So Constantine played, along allowing Kugel the Jester to be king for one day. Kugel used his power wisely and proclaimed that day one of absurdity and trickery, thus putting life into a different light. His edict pleased the masses and it became an annual event – says BU Emertius Professor of History Joseph Boskin in this interview.
Professor Boskin actually prancked the American public with this story on April 1st 1983.
April’s Fools Practices around the World
In Scotland people are being sent in a “fool’s errand”, “hunting the gowk” usually with a sealed message reading
“Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile”.
The poor messenger is being sent from person to person becoming the gawk, a word used for cuckoo bird which symbolizes the fool.
In UK the prank is only being pulled by midday, the person playing the prank after that becoming the April Fools himself.
In Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands or French speaking nations around the world this day is called Poisson d’Avril, rooted in the 16th century with its change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. A paper fish is placed on people’s back symbolizing an easy catch, a gullible person.
Did you know?
Sugrophobia is the “fear of being suckered, tricked”, from “sugro” Latin for “to suck”.
Do’s and Don’ts on April Fool’s
Do plan ahead
Do help your little ones if they want to plan a prank but use your common sense
Do know the chemical substances you want to use
Do keep your hoax within moral limits
Do tell it’s an April Fool’s hoax as soon as you’re being asked
Do team up with your office mates
Do have fun and, remember, what goes around comes around
Don’t play the joke on your little children or your pets
Don’t resign as a joke
Don’t let a prank carry on for too long. It’s only fun if everybody is having fun.
Don’t experiment with potentially hazardous substances
Five of the best April Fool’s Hoaxes in history
- Prank Robbery, South Africa, 1952
Four masked men entered a Stellenbosch bank and aimed water pistols at the staff shouting, “This is a holdup. Hand over the cash!” The alarm went off and the men threw the cash back, shouting “April Fool” then fled the scene in a car.
- Spaghetti Harvest, UK, 1957
BBC broadcasted a three-minute segment featured a family from Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest, picking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry. Time was of essence as a sudden change in weather could impact on the flavor of the spaghetti. This was 1957 when spaghetti was still an exotic delicacy in UK. Some viewers called in asking where they could get their own spaghetti bushes.
- A new island in the Indian Ocean, UK, 1977
The British newspaper The Guardian runs a special seven-page report about a newly discovered nation in a remote part of the Indian Ocean called San Serriffe, with the capital Bodoni and ruled by General Pica. The republic’s two main islands are named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse and on an aerial view they look just like a semi-colon. The hoax was a huge success, with only a few people spotting that all the terminology was named after printers’ lingo.
- Google Translate for Animals, 2000
In 2000 Google claimed they had come up with a new app called Google Translate for Animals. The app could decipher what your pet was barking, mewing, grunting or cheeping about. It also supplied a video that has been seen nearly 2 million times.
- Water Runways for airplanes, South Africa, 2012
Kulula Airline announces that selected airports, Cape Town, Durban and soon, Hartebeespoort Dam in Gauteng will soon be operating water runways in an attempt to “curb rising airport traffic congestion and high airport taxes.” The departing gate will now be called a departing pier and instead of buses, the passengers will be ferried to the planes by water shuttles.