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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

The History of April Fools' Day

In 1957 the BBC reported that Switzerland’s spaghetti crop was out of control and even showed footage of farmers harvesting pasta. The BBC is responsible for several hoaxes, including claiming they were now testing Smell-O-Vision in 1965, which they tried again online in 2007.

In 1992 an April Fools’ Day prank wrongly convinced the country that Nixon was running for office again, and in ‘96 Taco Bell announced that it had purchased and renamed the Liberty Bell to the Taco Liberty Bell. One year later in 1997 game show hosts Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek switched places in a gentle April Fools’ prank. 

A prank memo from taco bell

Going back even further, in 1749 advertisements ran claiming that a performer would squeeze his entire body into a wine bottle at the Theater Royal Haymarket. Of course, no performer ever arrived and the incident ended in riots.

Over the years not only have individuals played pranks on this day, but radio hosts, television personalities, celebrities of all kinds, politicians and companies have gotten in on the action.

Happy April Fools’ Day! Let’s talk a bit about the historic origins behind this holiday. And similar to Friday the 13th, there are quite a few different cultures and events in time that play into it. 

But why do we feel compelled to prank each other on April 1st? Let’s talk about the history behind April Fools’ Day. 

In 1582 France switched their official calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, this changed the New Year to January 1st, from the end of March. The Julian and Hindu calendars align the New Year with the Spring Equinox. In turn, anyone who hadn’t quite gotten the news yet of this change, or didn’t want to accept it were called “April Fools.” Some even took it further and placed paper fish on the backs of the Julian calendar observers, a symbol meaning that an easily caught fish was the same as a gullible person. 

A pope sits and looks with his bible

Also quite relevant to today’s date is that the initial intention of the Gregorian calendar was to move the date of Easter. The Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar, had been slightly miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes, which meant that each year holidays moved further from their originally intended date. Pope Gregory XII decided to introduce his calendar to bring Easter closer to the Spring Equinox, which was when it was meant to be celebrated. 

But back to April Fools’ Day, it's also sometimes thought to be tied to the changing and confusing seasons of this time of year. 

Some historians also consider the similarities to Hilaria. Hilaria was a festival in Ancient Rome that was celebrated by the cult of Cybele at the end of March. It sounds quite chaotic, and involved followers dressing up in costumes and making fun of both other people in town and leaders. Hilaria is thought to be rooted in Egypt’s Isis, Osiris, and Seth. 

Just remember, before you prank someone today, that in essence you’re making fun of them for refusing to accept Pope Gregory’s placement of Easter with the new Gregorian calendar.

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