The origin of April Fool’s Day is not known. There are several possible explanations, but nothing has been or really can be confirmed. At least, we can’t confirm it without the use of a time machine. April Fools traditions are noted in literature as far back as the 1300s, but many of these are extremely ambiguous. In fact, perhaps the first clear literary reference may date back to the 1500s. An Eduard de Dene story tells about a master trying to send his servant on fools’ errands. This story is clearly written to occur on April 1st, which is what tips the servant off to the mischief. This is significant because many of the earlier references to April Fool’s day are ambiguous, at best.
Literary evidence aside, many historians have pointed out the similarities between April Fools Day and the customs of “renewal” festivals. Renewal festivals are celebrated between winter and spring to signify the end of winter and the beginning of the new spring season. Historians have noted that almost every culture had some sort of renewal festival. During these festivals, traditional roles were often flip-flopped, lies were permitted, and foolish behavior was acceptable. Sound familiar? Many historians believe that these festivals are the origin of April Fools.
However, the renewal festival theory is not the only possible origin of April Fool’s Day. Another possible explanation has to do with the beginning of the calendar year. Did you know that it has not always been January first? Many cultures marked the end of the year nearer to the end of winter and beginning of spring. You guessed it, the end of March and beginning of April were often considered the end of the old year and beginning of a new one. It wasn’t until the Christian calendar took over that January 1st became widely accepted as the beginning of the new year. It is thought that the cultures who were still celebrating the new year in April were considered fools. Thus, came the idea of the April fool.
Regardless, the actual origin of April Fools Day is a mystery that is lost in the ambiguity of history.
Or is it?
In 2009, a professor at Boston University found what he called the definitive origin of April Fool’s Day. According to Joseph Boskin, the origin of April Fool’s Day dates back to the reign of Constantine. One day, on the first of April, a jester of the court challenged Constantine that he could do a better job at ruling. So, Constantine gave the jester a chance to prove it. On this day, the jester, who chose to go by the name Kugel, took over the kingdom and declared the day a day of absurdity. To this day, we still celebrate Kugel’s day. Watch Joseph Boskin’s explanation below:
Of course, the media took this explanation and ran with it. As you may have already guessed, this origin story was just an elaborate April Fool’s prank on the Associated Press. Believe it or not, many still quote this story as truth.
Other Epic April Fool’s Jokes
As a culturally accepted day of foolishness and pranks, April Fool’s Day has seen some pretty epic pranks. Many have been far reaching, spanning the globe. Others have gone so far as to shut entire cities down and cause panic, upset, and chaos. Regardless, they all have one theme: prey on those who want to believe or those who don’t know any better.
Spaghetti Grows on Trees
Have you heard about the great spaghetti harvest of 1957? According to this commercial that was released on April 1st, the elimination of the pasta weevil and a mild winter led to a bountiful pasta harvest. Now, in 1957, globalization was not quite same as it is today. Believe it or not, there were those who didn’t know pasta was not grown and harvested. People wrote in and asked about how they could grow their own pasta tree. One infamous tongue-in-cheek response stated that those looking to grow a pasta tree of their own would need to place a “sprig” of spaghetti in some tomato sauce and wait. Well, we’re still waiting on that one to work.
The Lirpa Loof Arrives at the London Zoo
Have you heard of the Lirpa Loof? This almost mythological creature was brought to the audiences of That’s Life! In 1984. Hailed as a new addition to the London Zoo, this hairy biped was touted as an endangered species with amazing mimicry abilities. The original broadcast was said to include some great scientists of the time debating the creature on an examination table. So, what is a Lirpa Loof exactly? A man in a suit. Here’s a great, detailed blog post about the Lirpa Loof from Dr. Karl Shuker.
The owner of this video has disabled playback on other sites. You can view it here on YouTube: Lirpa Loof (1984)
Forget Flying Pigs, Let’s Talk about Flying Penguins!
Remember that time when the BBC show, Miracles of Evolution, discovered the isolated group of penguins that had evolved to fly once again? These migratory penguins, which debuted on April 1st of all days, are known for their ability to take off into the skies. As a result, they tend to spend avoid the harshest winter weather of the year by migrating to South American and basking in the warm sun of the rain forests. According to the video, these penguins were discovered in the antarctic. Who needs pigs to fly when penguins, our favorite grounded birds, are just as unlikely?
Motion Gmail? The Original Gesture-based Email Service
Google has always been known for its playful jokes and interactive celebrations of holidays. In 2011, they released an April Fools Joke that many thought, at first glance, was legitimate. That’s right folks, the experts at Google had released a video about a gesture-based email that would remove the restrictions of the standard keyboard set-up. Imagine writing an email and not being confined to a desk chair. While the gestures were meant to revolutionize the way we write emails, the original ad explained that breaks were suggested every 30 – 40 minutes. To get the most o gesture-based emails, 4 feet of space was recommended. Watch the video for a full description.
Through the years, we have seen elaborate April Fool’s Day tricks. Many have been in good humor, but some have gone too far. Because this tradition is all in good fun, these pranks tend to be forgiven (even when they go too far). But we still encourage pranksters to be safe, smart, and respectful (as much as the good fun allows).