April Fools’ Day, Hoaxes and Halaria

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April Fools’ Day through the ages

Pop Culture: April Fool’s Day
By Donovan Darling, Staff Writer

April Fools’ Day is often credited to the calendar reform of 1582 in France, during the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Before this change, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1, consistent with traditions in other cultures such as the Hindu calendar.

However, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar and the shifting of New Year’s Day to January 1, the observance of the new year got complicated. Some people were unaware or just refused to change and continued to celebrate the new year in late March through April 1, and these people were subjected to jests and pranks and mockingly called “April fools.”

A popular prank played back then involved placing paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting victims and referring to them as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), a term which supposedly symbolized both the innocence of a young, easily caught fish and that person’s gullibility. From there, a tradition of good-humored tricks, pranks and mischief began.

Hilaria in Rome

April Fools’ Day’s origins have also been credited to festivals like Hilaria in ancient Rome, celebrated by followers of the cult of Cybele. Hilaria, “joyful” in Latin, involved disguises and mockery, possibly inspired by Egyptian mythology. Another theory suggests a tie to the vernal equinox, with nature’s unpredictable weather fooling people.

The tradition spread in Britain during the 18th century, with Scotland adding a two day celebration. The first day, “hunting the gowk,” sent people on fake errands (gowk meaning cuckoo bird, a symbol for a fool). This was followed by Tailie Day, featuring pranks on people’s butts such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.

Modern Day

Nowadays April Fools’ Day has become a playground for elaborate hoaxes. Newspapers, TV stations and websites will often create outrageous fictional claims to fool their audiences. In 1957, the BBC reported a record spaghetti crop in Switzerland, complete with footage of noodles being harvested from trees. In 1985, Sports Illustrated published a fake article about a pitcher named Sidd Finch throwing over 168 mph.

In 1992, NPR had a Richard Nixon impersonator announce a presidential run. In 1996, Taco Bell announced the purchase of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. And lastly, in 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper.” Google, on the other hand, has now become known for its annual pranks, from a “telepathic search” to turning Google Maps into Pac Man.