8 April 2009, JellyBean @ 1:33 pm

April Fool's DayApril Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day, although not a holiday in its own right, is a day celebrated in many countries on April 1. The day is marked by the commission of hoaxes and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, enemies, and neighbors, or sending them on a fool’s errand, the aim of which is to embarrass the gullible.

Traditionally, in some countries, the jokes only last until noon: like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, someone who plays a trick after noon is called an “April Fool”. Elsewhere, such as in Ireland, France, and the USA, the jokes last all day.

The origin of April Fools’ Day is obscure. One likely theory is that the modern holiday was first celebrated soon after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar; the term referred to someone still adhering to the Julian Calendar, which it replaced.

In many pre-Christian cultures May Day (May 1) was celebrated as the first day of summer, and signalled the start of the spring planting season. An April Fool may have been someone who did this prematurely.

Another possible origin is that April 1 was counted the first day of the year in France. When King Charles IX changed that to January 1, some people stayed with April 1. In the eighteenth century the festival was often posited as going back to the times of Noah. An English newspaper article published on April 13th, 1789 said that the day had its origins when he sent the raven off too early, before the waters had receded. He did this on the first day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with April.

A possible reference to April Fools’ Day can be seen in the Canterbury Tales (ca 1400) in the Nun’s Priest’s tale, a tale of two fools: Chanticleer and the fox, which took place on March 32nd.

Iranians play jokes on each other on the 13th day of the Persian new year (Norouz), which falls on April 1 or April 2. This day, celebrated as far back as 536 BC, is called Sizdah Bedar and is the oldest prank-tradition in the world still alive today; this fact has led many to believe that April Fools’ Day has its origins in this tradition.

The April 1 tradition in France and French-speaking Canada includes poisson d’avril (literally “April’s fish”), attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being noticed. This is also widespread in other nations, such as Italy (where the term Pesce d’aprile (literally “April’s fish”) is also used to refer to any jokes done during the day). In Spanish-speaking countries, similar pranks are practiced on December 28, día de los Santos Inocentes, the “Day of the Holy Innocents”. This custom also exists in certain areas of Belgium, including the province of Antwerp. The Flemish tradition is for children to lock out their parents or teachers, only letting them in if they promise to bring treats the same evening or the next day.

In Poland, prima aprilis (“April 1″ in Latin) is a day full of jokes; various hoaxes are prepared by people, media (which sometimes cooperate to make the “information” more credible) and even public institutions. Serious activities are usually avoided. This conviction is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I signed on April 1, 1683, was backdated to March 31.

In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is traditionally called Hunt-the-Gowk Day (“gowk” is Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person), although this name has fallen into disuse. The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message requesting help of some sort. In fact, the message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile”. The recipient, upon reading it, will explain he can only help if he first contacts another person, and sends the victim to this person with an identical message, with the same result. Also Scotland has 2 whole days for pranks, April 1 and April 2.

In Denmark the 1st of May is known as “Maj-kat”, meaning “May-cat”, and is identical to April Fools’ Day, though Danes also celebrate April Fools’ Day (“aprilsnar”).

In Spain and Ibero-America, an equivalent date is December 28th, Christian day of celebration of the Massacre of the Innocents. The Christian celebration is a holiday in its own right, a religious one, but the tradition of pranks not, though the latter is observed yearly. After somebody plays a joke or a prank on somebody else, the joker usually cries out: “Inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar” (You innocent dove that allowed to get yourself fooled), as a popular expression.

Some well-known April Fool’s Pranks:

Spaghetti trees: The BBC television programme Panorama ran a famous hoax in 1957, showing the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They had claimed that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees. It was, in fact, filmed in St Albans

Tower of Pisa: The Dutch television news reported once in the 1950s that the Tower of Pisa had fallen over. Many shocked people contacted the station.

Phone call: In 1998, UK presenter Nic Tuff of West Midlands radio station Kix 96 pretended to be the British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he called the then South African President Nelson Mandela for a chat. It was only at the end of the call when Nic asked Nelson what he was doing for April Fools’ Day that the line went dead

U2 Live on Rooftop in Cork: In 2009 hundreds of U2 fans were duped in an elaborate prank when they rushed to a shopping centre in Blackrock in Cork believing that the band were playing a surprise rooftop concert. The prank was organised by Cork radio station RedFM. The band were in fact just a tribute band called U2opia.

In 1980, the BBC reported a proposed change to the famous clock tower known as Big Ben. The reporters stated that the clock would go digital.

On Comedy Central, the creators of South Park aired a fake episode of Terrance and Phillip titled “Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus instead of running the season premier which was supposed to reveal the father of Eric Cartman.

President Barack Obama pulls fundings for NASCAR – On the heels of the auto industry bailout On April 1 2009, Car and Driver claimed on their website that President Barack Obama had ordered Chevrolet and Dodge to pull NASCAR funding. The article was removed from the website and replaced with an apology to readers, after upset NASCAR fans protested on the Car and Driver website. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter notably fell for the joke.

Dead fairy hoax: In 2007, an illusion designer for magicians posted on his website some images illustrating the corpse of an unknown eight-inch creation, which was claimed to be the mummified remains of a fairy. He later sold the fairy on eBay for £280

Water on Mars: In 2005 a news story was posted on the official NASA website purporting to have pictures of water on Mars. The picture actually was just a picture of a glass of water on a Mars Candy Bar

Assassination of Bill Gates: In 2003, many Chinese and South Korean websites claimed that CNN reported Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, was assassinated, resulting in a 1.5% drop in the Korean stock market. (However, CNN is banned in the People’s Republic of China.)

For more on April Fool’s Day, check out the Wikipedia page

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