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Happy April Fools Day!
The legends, lore, and murky origins of playing pranks on April 1.
By Steve Biodrowski
April 01, 2000
April Fools' Day is like St. Valentine's Day in the sense that no one seems quite sure of its origin. One theory (unverified) posits that it began in the 1500s, when the Gregorian Calendar was adopted instead of the Julian Calendar, moving New Year's Day from April 1 to January 1. Supposedly, if you could fool your friends and family into continuing to celebrate on the old day, they were April Fools. (This perhaps doesn't sound like such a laugh riot to us today, but humor was probably different in the 1500s.)
Other theories include: The timing of the day coincides with the arrival of spring, which fools people with its unpredictable weather. Or, it commemorates the fools errand of the crow sent from Noah's ark on a fruitless search to look for land. Or, it has something to do with the Vernal Equinox or the Roman's end-of-winter celebration or the Celtic new year's festival.
However the tradition originated, the date has come to be associated with good-natured pranks done for humorous effect. Originally, these were more personal in nature (done among friends and family), but over the years, the media has shown a willingness to pull a leg or two. Radio shows sent people searching through their pocket change when they announced one year that certain coins had accidentally been minted from real gold by mistake. In 1957, the BBC announced that spring had come early, resulting in an early harvest for Switzerland's spaghetti crop. And last year, the local Los Angeles paper New Times
printed a bogus article claiming that the home run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa was generated behind-the-scenes by a trio of media moguls who wanted to drum up the baseballs flagging TV ratings.
Whatever the prank, April Fools Day has its own superstitions and even a set of 'rules.' For instance: Men who are fooled by a woman will eventually marry that woman. A joke that extends beyond the designated time period will rebound on the perpetrators. And those who don't respond in a good-natured way to the pranks played upon them are said to attract bad luck. One should add that, although there is no official tradition, to be truly funny, a prank should be relatively harmless; and, ideally, it should be fairly easy to spot, so that in retrospect people will realize they should have known all along.