This is NOT an April Fools joke. It is a legitimate blog.
As you know, today is April 1, also known as “April Fools Day.” I like a good joke as much as anyone, but I am not a big fan of pranking people on this date. Maybe when I was 10, but not now. But, I was curious about the origins of the holiday, and how it is celebrated around the world.
AFD is not a official holiday in the US, or in any other country, for that matter, but it is widely recognized and celebrated around the world unofficially. Some people love to play jokes and perpetrate hoaxes. So, if you hear that President Trump has resigned to focus on building hotels and golf courses, or that James Dolan has sold the NY Knicks, or that China has “forgiven” the US’s debt, don’t believe it. Those would most certainly be AFD jokes.
Even the media can be a willing participant. One of my favorite AFD pranks occurred on April 1, 1985. The “Sports Illustrated” cover story that day was about a baseball pitching phenom named Sidd Finch. At first, the story appeared to have credibility, as it was written by George Plimpton and published in SI. Finch was presented as an unknown rookie pitching prospect in the NY Mets training camp. (At that time Opening Day was later in April.) So far, so good. But, as one read the details of the story, particularly about his 160 MPH fastball, it became apparent that it was an AFD joke.
A few other famous, or infamous AFD pranks (courtesy of CNN, which many claim is the “fake news” network anyway):
1. Swiss spaghetti – On 4/1/57 a British tv show called “Panorama” claimed that the Swiss spaghetti harvest had enjoyed a “bumper year,” due to the unusually mild weather and the elimination of the “spaghetti weevil.” This hoax was ranked the #1 AFD joke of all time by the Museum of Hoaxes. (Yes, there is such a place.)
2. Toilet paper – On 4/1/73 Johnny Carson joked on the “Tonight Show” that there was a shortage of toilet paper. This hoax was credited with creating a real shortage as many listeners believed him and rushed out to “stock up.”
In 2015 Cottonelle announced it was developing “left-handed toilet paper.” “It cleans just like right-handed toilet paper, only it’s made for (lefties),” touted one advertisement.
3. Google gulp – In 1998 Google announced a drink called the “Google Gulp,” which, it said, would help one to “achieve maximum optimization of your soon-to-be grateful cerebral cortex,” [and it was] “low in carbs” to boot.
All in good fun!
Surprisingly, there are records of continuous AFD celebrations back as far as 536 BC in present day Iran. They celebrate the Persian holiday of Sizdah Bedar, which falls on the 13th day of the Persian New Year, (April 1). In addition, the Romans celebrated festivals called “Hilaria” on March 25 and the “Medieval Feast of Fools” on December 28. In certain Spanish-speaking countries, the latter is still a date on which pranks are played on people. Finally, there is a reference to the holiday in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which was first published in 1387.
According to Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes, the Dutch popularized the day in the late 16th century. By the 1700s it had spread over much of Northern Europe, and eventually to the US.
Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated differently around the world. Some examples are as follows:
1. UK – The April Fool joke is disclosed when the perpetrator shouts “April Fool” at the recipient. Traditionally, April Fool jokes are to cease at midday. After that time, anyone trying to prank someone becomes the “April Fool” himself. These AFD customs are similar in other countries whose traditions were influenced by the UK, such as the US.
2. Scotland – AFD is called “Hunt the Gowk Day.” “Gowk” is Scots for a foolish person.
3. Ireland – A common tradition is to give the “prankee” an important letter in an envelope to give to a certain person. That person would ask the “prankee” to give it to another person, and so on and so on. Eventually, someone would open the envelope. The letter inside would say “send the fool further.”
4. Poland – Traditionally, April 1 is a day to play jokes and hoaxes. The media participates as well. Serious matters are to be avoided. For example, supposedly, a treaty signed on April 1, 1683 was later backdated to March 31.
5. France/Italy/Belgium – The holiday is called “April Fish,” for some reason. One common prank is to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being detected. (Along these lines, in high school we used to put a “kick me” sign on a victim’s back, although not just on AFD. Movie buffs may recall that this joke was played on McFly Senior in the movie “Back to the Future.”)
6. Sweden/Denmark – They celebrate on May 1 in addition to April 1. Many Danish and Swedish news outlets will intentionally publish one false story on April 1.
AFD can be fun, especially for kids. Even in the current PC era, a little harmless fun never hurt anyone. That is especially true today as we are all being threatened by the deadly coronavirus.
I recall a few years ago my son told my grandson, who was six at the time and a huge Mets fan, that David Wright had been traded to the hated Yankees. To his credit, my grandson, merely shrugged his shoulders and asked “who for?”
I can remember being both the perpetrator and butt of April fool jokes in grade school and middle school. All in good fun. I predict that some of you will be victimized today. Maybe you have been already.
Please tell me some of your favorite April fools moments. Were you the perpetrator or the victim? I promise you I won’t put it on Facebook.