April Fool's Day
On the Bright Side
April 1, 2023
I was going to write a completely silly column for today in the spirit of April Fool's Day, but I've been hearing so many rumors about myself lately that I was afraid no matter how outlandish I made it, someone would believe it.
So instead, I decided to look up the history of the weird little holiday and tell you about that. But it seems that no one knows the exact history or the true origins of April Fool's Day.
Some believe it became a thing back in 1582 when France switched to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar designated that the spring equinox, around April 1, was the beginning of the new year, while the Gregorians designated January 1 as the new year's beginning. Folks who failed to acknowledge that the start of the new year had changed, and who continued to celebrate the new year around April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called "April fools." Seems like a reasonable explanation as any to me.
Though the actual history remains a mystery, April Fool's Day (April 1) has been celebrated by different cultures for several centuries. The day's traditions include hoaxes or playing practical jokes on others, often yelling "April Fools!" at the end to clue in the target of the prank. And over the years there have been a number of high-profile, elaborate hoaxes to celebrate the unofficial holiday. Some more modern examples:
On April 1, 1957, the BBC aired a segment showing a Swiss farming family harvesting long strands of "pasta" from their "spaghetti trees." At that time, spaghetti was still a new and exotic delicacy in England, so many viewers bought the report hook, line and sinker. Some called in to ask how to obtain and grow spaghetti trees of their own. The BBC reportedly suggested, "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
On April 1, 1962, a "technical expert" for Sweden's one and only television channel made an exciting announcement: he reported that by stretching a pair of nylon stockings over their screens, viewers could watch the usual black-and-white broadcast in color. People rushed to try the simple hack, only to be disappointed when the hose did nothing but obscure the picture.
For our friends across the pond, a Nessie-related hoax is a popular one. In 1972, for example, a widely published photograph convinced many that the Loch Ness' monster was floating dead in the lake. Turns out that a prankster from Yorkshire's Flamingo Park Zoo had dumped the body of a bull elephant seal in the lake, intending only to play a joke on his coworkers... but the "news" quickly went viral.
On April 1, 1976, on the good ol' BBC, astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners that at 9:47 a.m. that day, the temporary alignment of Pluto and Jupiter would cause a reduction in Earth's gravity, allowing people to briefly levitate. Sure enough, at 9:48, hundreds of callers flooded the lines with reports that they had floated in the air.
In 1992, National Public Radio ran a spot with former "President Richard Nixon" saying he was running for president again. It was actually comedian Rich Little, known for his impressions, playing the part in an April Fool's Day prank. Many outraged listeners called in to express their dismay and the station had to admit the announcement was a hoax.
In 1996, Taco Bell duped people when it announced (in several newspaper ads) on April 1 that it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.
In 1998, on April 1 Burger King advertised in USA Today about a new "Left-Handed Whopper," and countless clueless customers came in and requested the fake sandwich.
Even the U.S. Army jumped on the hoax bandwagon in 2013, when it sent out a seemingly official press release April 1 announcing that the latest additions to the U.S. Armed Forces would be drafting cats to serve their country (in order to cut down on military spending). Sgt. 1st Class Tyler Radmall wisely stated, "Not only will the Army have a more cost-effective working animal, but we will be doing our part in getting [cats] off of the streets and finding them employment."
So, watch out on April First! And no matter how you celebrate, with a big or little joke on your friends and neighbors, have fun, enjoy being foolish, and let me know how your pranks turn out!
© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, local writer and photographer, has been looking on the bright side and playing practical jokes since 1696; she still welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.