These days April Fool’s Day is mostly a giant PR stunt, a day on which brands turn around really ‘cool’ and ‘funny’ press releases, products and pranks. Come April 1st you can’t move for all the really overcooked bants, lolz, hoaxes and gotchas on websites, social media and your news feed. It’s a chance for brands to get your attention and prove how funny, right on and totes culturally relevant they are by pretending that they’re about to launch a range of stilettos for dogs before shouting ‘APRIL FOOL’ lol lol lol.
It all ends at midday of course, when you’re no longer permitted to play pranks and the reality of our laughless, mundane and banal lives sets in again. Except, it’s all kind of boring isn’t it - ‘I thought about telling my mum I was pregnant but then my housemate pointed out that it’s not actually very funny.’ That sort of thing.
Before it was hijacked by 'cool', 'hip' brands what was April Fools Day about? Where did it come from? Why do we save up all of our pranks for one day of the year? Why is that day April 1st?
Where Did April Fool’s Day Come From?
The first recorded reference to April the 1st and foolishness is, apparently, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s middle English text The Canterbury Tales (1392). In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale the vain cock, Chauntecleer, is tricked by a cunning fox. On April 1st in 1698 several people were tricked to going into the Tower of London to ‘see the lions washed’…sounds like a barrel of lol.
While the origins of this day of national mischief-making and pratical joking might not be clear but historians believe it dates back to Ancient Roman times. Historians think that the festival is closely related to the coming of Spring when that original prankster, mother nature, fools everyone with unpredictable and changeable weather. Ancient Romans celebrated a festival of practical joking at about the time of the Vernal Equinox called Hilaria at the end of March every year.
In India, today, millions of India's stick with tradition, celebrating this time of year with Holi.
Some people also think it could have something to do with a calendar error - back in 1582 France moved from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which caused New Year's Day to move from April 1st to January 1st and some people didn't get the memo.
How does April Fool’s Day Go Down Around The World?
It’s pretty similar everywhere to be honest. In the majority of places people play jokes on each other and newspapers publish a a fairly obviously false story.
It sounds pretty fun in Italy, France and Belgium though where April Fools is known as Poissons d’Avril. The antics mostly involve people attempting to attach a paper fish to someone else’s back without being noticed.
Was April Fool’s Day Ever Funny?
In 1957 the BBC nailed April Fool’s Day. They broadcast a film for Panorama which appeared to show Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown Spaghetti from trees and called it the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. People went nuts and started to get in touch, looking to buy a spaghetti plant. They fooled the nation!
Auntie struck again in 1965 when they pretend to conduct a trial of ‘smell-o-vision’ which would allow viewers to receive smells through their TV. Apparently lots of people got in touch with the Beeb to let them know the trial had been a success.
In 2008 they put together a video which made it look like penguins could fly…just look at them!!!
Flying penguins! It's fair to say that the BBC wins the award for some of the all time best April Fool's Day pranks.
RIP April Fool’s Day
With spoof story’s appearing every day online these days it’s fair to say the Internet has killed April Fool’s Day. These days we’re a bunch of hardened cynics, way too savvy to be sucked in by such japes, let ourselves be pranked or, you know, have fun.
A few years ago the Guardian ran a pretty niche and half-hearted hoax story that had something to do with the Queen and Brexit. This year it's all very subdued indeed - maybe after the toughest in 12 months in living memory, a fake sonogram picture or a story about fictional flying penguins feels a bit hollow.
Bring back whoopee cushions, replace the sugar with salt and put jam in the ketchup. Not just on April 1st, because nobody like organised fun or bad corporate jokes, we need proper pranks all year round.