This is not an April Fools joke. It s 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 or so, but not now. But, I was curious about the origins of the holiday, and how it is celebrated around the world.
According to Wikipedia AFD is not a official holiday in the US, nor in any other country for that matter, but it is widely recognized and celebrated around the world unofficially. Different countries have different ways of celebrating it. More on that later.
Some people love to play jokes and perpetrate hoaxes. So, if you hear that President Biden has resigned and relocated to an assisted living facility, 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, an author of some renown, 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), and Wikipedia:
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.”
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Walt(Clyde) Frazier, the illustrious NY Knick Hall of Fame basketball player, retired after the 1979 season. On April 1, 1997 the MSG network ran a story that he was coming out of retirement. It fooled some people for a while, but it was not true.
All in good fun!
On the flip side there have been actual events that occurred on or around April 1 that were mistakenly taken as AFD jokes, such as:
- In 1946 a news report of an earthquake and tsunami in the Aleutian Islands area that ultimately killed 165 persons in Alaska and Hawaii.
- In 1984 it was reported that singer Marvin Gaye, Jr. was shot and killed by his father.
- In 1995 it was reported that the singer, Selena, was shot and killed by the former president of her fan club.
- In 2009 CBS announced that its long-running soap opera, The Guiding Light, was being cancelled.
Initially, each of these was denounced as false AFD pranks even by those who should have been cognizant of the truth.
In 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID Pandemic some people were opposed to incorporating the virus into AFD pranks. For example, Google opted not to publish its customary “infamous April Fools jokes. Additionally, in Thailand police warned that posting or sharing any AFD jokes or pranks online could result in a maximum of five years in prison for the perpetrator.
The origin of AFD is murky and controversial. 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. Also, there is a reference to the holiday in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was first published in 1387.
According to Wikipedia, a 1908 edition of Harpers Weekly published a reference to AFD in connection with Noah’s Ark. I think the article, itself, was likely an AFD joke, particularly since the story of the Ark and the Flood, itself, strains credulity.
In 1508 a French poet, Eloy d’Amerval, referred to a day called poisson d’avril , or “April’s fish” in one of his poems, which some historians attribute to be the earliest known reference to the holiday in France. Even today, AFD is referred to as “April Fish Day” in France, Belgium and Italy.
During the Middle Ages there was no universally-recognized calendar, so many regions celebrated New Years Day on April 1 rather than January 1. Some of those who celebrated it on January would denigrate those who celebrated it on April as “fools.” It is easy to see how that label morphed into “April fools.”
Supposedly, in 1561 Eduard de Dene, a Belgian poet of some renown, published a humorous poem about a nobleman who sent one of his servants on “foolish errands” on April 1.
In 1686 John Aubrey, who Wikipedia describes as an antiquary, writer and philosopher, is credited by Wikipedia with making the earliest reference to the celebratory day in Great Britain. He called it “Fooles holy day.” (For those of you who, like me, are not well-versed in Oxford English the term antiquary is defined as one who collects or studies antiques.)
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 Scotch 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 – 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, in my view, many Americans are becoming increasingly humorless.
I recall some years ago my son “pranked” my grandson, who was six at the time and a huge Mets fan, telling him that David Wright, his favorite Mets player at the time, 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 this year. Be ready, and take it as the good fun in which it is intended.
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 (maybe).