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 Foolâ€™s Day to several historical precursors â€“ including the vernal equinox. On this first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, Mother Nature was said to fool people with the 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 â€“Â 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 Yearâ€™s at the end of March were considered â€œApril fools,â€ and were subject to teasing, hoaxes or practical jokes.
Meanwhile, â€œAll Foolsâ€™ Dayâ€ 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 â€“which proved to be an April Foolâ€™s Day hoax. The Scots began celebrating their version of April Foolâ€™s shortly thereafter with a two-day event: â€œHunt-the-Gowk Dayâ€ on April 1, on which people are sent on phony errands, followed by â€œTailie Dayâ€ on April 2, which involves surreptitiously attaching â€œkick meâ€ signs or animal tails to peopleâ€™s backsides.
Here are five of the most notorious April Foolâ€™s Day pranks of the modern era.
In 1957, the BBC TV news program â€œPanoramaâ€ reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop â€“ and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees. The station received several calls from people who were interested in growing their own spaghetti.
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 Londonâ€™s 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 Philadelphiaâ€™s Liberty Bell, which would be renamed the â€œTaco Liberty Bell.â€ Thousands of outraged Americans contacted the corporation in protest.
So whether you fool someone or get fooled yourself, may your April Foolâ€™s Day be filled with lots laughs.