April Fools’ Day is a long standing custom that is celebrated on the 1st of April every year in many countries across the globe where people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. This day is not a holiday in any country but even then it helps to spark happy spirit in all and sundry. The day is also known as All Fools’ Day.

History and Origin:

The earliest account of April Fools’ Day celebration is found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales around the year 1392. In the story named “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, the vain cock is fooled by a fox by means of trickery. However, scholars have later opined that Chaucer actually was referring to the 2nd day of May, the day when in the year 1381 King Richard II of England got engaged to Anne of Bohemia.

Literature has since then referred to the April Fools’ Day in many occasions. In 1508, the day finds mention in the pen of the French poet Eloy d’ Amerval, which hints at a possibility of a holiday on that day. In 1539 narration of the Flemish poet Eduard de Dene accounts of a nobleman who made his servants run around for foolish errands on the 1st day of April. The first British reference is found in 1686 when John Aubrey referred to the occasion.

In 1698, the April 2 edition of Dawk’s Newsletter reported that several people gathered at the Tower of London to watch the Lions at the entrance door being ceremoniously washed in response to a hoax.

Another theory proposes that till the late 18th century many places in Europe celebrated New Year’s Day on the day of the Feast of the Annunciation which was celebrated on March 25. The celebrations sometimes continued to the 1st of April. Many historians opine that this day was ridiculed by those who celebrated New Year on January 1. This paved the way for playing pranks on this day.

Common Customs:

In UK, it is the norm to play the jokes till midday. Anyone who plays pranks after midday becomes “April Fool” her/ himself. However, this tradition has diluted with the lapse of time. As per custom the joke is revealed by shouting “April Fool” at the person who was targeted to the hoax.

In Scotland, the day was traditionally referred to as Hunt-the-Gowk Day, where the word Gowk traditionally means a cuckoo and was used to refer to a foolish person. A traditional form of prank is to send a sealed letter to someone requesting for help. The message would end with the phrase – "Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile". The recipient upon reading the message would send it somehow to someone else and the chain of hoax continues.

In Iran the custom of playing pranks on each other is called Sizdah Bedar and has been prevalent since 536 BC. During this time Persian New Year Nowruz is celebrated, and this tradition adds gaiety to the auspicious occasion.

In Poland this event is known as Prima Aprilis, and people plan various hoaxes ahead of time, and even media at times participates in this fun event. Even public institutions cooperate to make the hoaxes seem credible to people. Serious activities are generally avoided on this day. This belief of avoiding any serious job on this day is taken so seriously that Leopold I postponed signing the anti-Turkish alliance to March 31.

In France and in French speaking provinces of Switzerland and Canada, people celebrate the day by attempting to attach paper fish to each other’s back without being caught in action. This tradition is known as ‘Poisson d'avril’, which literally means April’s Fish. In Italy this same custom is prevalent and is known as ‘Pesce d'aprile’. The custom is also adhered to in some areas of Belgium.

According to Flemish tradition, children lock out their parents and teachers on this day. The children let them out only after they promise a treat.

A few famous pranks:

In the year 1957, BBC planned a prank where they broadcast a fake video showing Swiss farmers picking spaghetti. This prank later came to be known as the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest prank. The BBC offices were flooded with enquiry about such plants, and BBC disclosed about the hoax on the next day.

On the morning of April 1 in the year 1976, astronomer Patrick Moore declared that at 9-47 that morning there will occur a once in a lifetime astronomical event whereby the planet Pluto would cross planet Jupiter from behind; and this would result in temporary gravitational alignment because of which the Earth’s gravitational pull will be reduced. Moore further suggested that people may experience a floating sensation at that juncture. BBC was again flooded with calls from people who claimed to have experienced the same, although Moore had simply played a trick.

In the year 1977, the Guardian published a seven page special report that spoke about a small country located in the Indian Ocean called San Serriffe. According to the report, it was a chain of islands in the shape of a semi colon whose main constituents were the islands of Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. They even went ahead to publish about the history, topography, geography and customs prevalent in these said islands. Readers went into a frenzy to find out more about the place that seemed an idyllic holiday spot. This event is believed to have started the tradition for newspapers to carry hoax stories on the occasion of April Fools’ Day.

In 1980, BBC broadcast that in order to keep pace with the developments of modern times Big Ben would be given a digital readout. It was a shocking announcement and many listeners protested about the change. BBC also went ahead to announce that the clock hands of Big Ben would be sold to the first four listeners who would contact the offices. An immediate bid for the clock hands was radioed by a Japanese seaman from the mid-Atlantic.

In more recent times, in the year 1998, Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today that announced the addition of a new item to their menu – The Left-handed Whopper. They claimed that this burger was designed especially for the 32 million Americans who were left handed. They further quipped, that this new item on the menu had the identical ingredients to the original Whopper, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees. Many buyers thronged the stores in search for this new item on the menu.

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