Most historians believe that April Fools’ Day (also known as All Fools’ Day) began in France around 1582 when the Julian calendar changed to the Gregorian one. In the Julian calendar, the celebration of a new year began around April 1st, when the spring equinox arrived.
People who were slow to hear the news and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st instead of January 1st became the target of jokes and were called literally called “April fools.” Some of these pranks included having a paper fish called a poisson d’aril (April fish) put on their backs to symbolize an easily caught fish or an impressionable sucker.
April Fools’ Day continued to spread throughout European countries in the 18th century. In Scotland they held a two-day event that included Tailie Day in which they would have a fake tail pinned to them or a “Kick me” sign plastered on their backs. Or they would be sent on fool’s errands called “hunting the gowk.” (A gowk is both a cuckoo bird and symbol for a fool.) In Ireland, it became a tradition to entrust the gullible person with an “important” letter to deliver. The person would read the letter and then ask the person to take it to someone else, and so on and so on. Inside the letter it would say “Send the fool further.”
Since that time, April Fools’ Day pranks have become more and more elaborate. Even media and advertisers get involved in the fun. From TV and radio station announcers to major corporations, it seems everyone likes “punking” people, often reporting outrageous claims to fool their audiences. A hypothetical example would be Hobby Lobby offering a 90% off coupon that is valid only on a Sunday. That sounds great, until one realizes that Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays.
Google has a long-standing tradition of celebrating April Fools’ with everything from a telepathic search to playing Pac Man on Google Maps. However, in order to honor those who have been struggling given our current economic climate, Google put a hold on the holiday for the 2nd year in a row.
While life isn’t quite back to normal for many of us, pranks will still be played. So be prepared for saltshakers filled with sugar, a whoopie cushion on your office chair, bogus lottery-winning announcements and…well, you never know. Good luck!