Every April 1, people all over the world play practical jokes on their coworkers, friends and family members. Hoaxes are also a popular way to celebrate this unofficial holiday, and have been disseminated by newspapers, radio and television stations, websites, and even corporations since the dawn of the information age.
While the exact origins of this tradition remain a mystery, History.com links April Fools Day to several historical precursors – including the vernal equinox. On this first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, Mother Nature was said to fool people with wildly unpredictable weather.
The tradition has also been linked to the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, where the Anatolian goddess Cybele was celebrated on March 25 with dancing, feasting and dressing up in disguises – presumably to fool other people. Other possible origins include the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which was decreed in 1563 by the Council of Trent and moved the start of the new year from April 1 to January 1. Those who continued to celebrate New Years at the end of March were considered April fools, and were subject to teasing, hoaxes or practical jokes.
Meanwhile, All Fools Day had become an institution in England by 1698, with reports of several people being tricked into gathering at the Tower of London for a supposed lion-washing ceremony –which proved to be an April Fools Day hoax. The Scots began celebrating their version of April Fools shortly thereafter with a two-day event: Hunt-the-Gowk Day on April 1, on which people are sent on phony errands, followed by Tailie Day on April 2, which involves surreptitiously attaching kick me signs or animal tails to peoples backsides.
Here are five of the most notorious April Fools Day pranks of the modern era.
- Spaghetti harvest. In 1957, the BBC TV news program Panorama reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop – and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees. The station received several calls from people who were interested in growing their own spaghetti.
- Iceberg auction. In 1978, Australian businessman and adventurer Dick Smith announced that he would be towing an iceberg from Antarctica to break into smaller cubes for sale. He advertised that these Antarctic ice cubes would freshen the taste of any drink, and made them available for pre-sale at 10 cents a cube. Apparently several thousand were sold before the hoax was uncovered.
- The Earth loses gravity. In 1976, BBC Radio 2 reported that due to a rare astronomical alignment of Pluto and Jupiter, the Earth’s gravity would momentarily decrease. Listeners were told to jump in the air at 9:47 AM to experience a prolonged floating sensation.
- Big Ben goes digital. In 1980, BBC Radio Japan reported that Londons Big Ben would be converted to a digital clock in order to make it easier to read. The station even offered to sell the clock hands to the first four callers, which actually resulted in some bidding.
- Life, liberty, and the pursuit of tacos. In 1996, the fast-food chain Taco Bell announced that it had agreed to purchase Philadelphias Liberty Bell, which would be renamed the Taco Liberty Bell. Thousands of outraged Americans contacted the corporation in protest.
So whether you fool someone or get fooled yourself, may your April Fools Day be filled with lots laughs.