April Fools Day at the Abbey Museum

The Story Behind April Fool’s Day

April Fool’s History

Everyone enjoys a good joke, (whether practical or otherwise) and April 1st or April Fool’s Day is recognised almost universally as the day on which pranks are played. They may be close to home such as sending your brother to find a can of elbow grease so you can shine your shoes or as widely reported as the BBC Panorama report on 1 April 1957 about the spaghetti harvest in Switzerland which had many people asking where they could obtain spaghetti plants themselves.

Spaghetti harvest Switzerland April Fools

There are a number of theories about the origin of April 1 being celebrated as April Fool’s Day. The most widely accepted is that it goes back to when the western world adopted the Gregorian calendar in place of the Julian calendar during the 1500s. Under the Julian calendar the year began on March 25; festivals marking the start of the New Year were celebrated on the first day of April as March 25th fell during Holy Week. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted, New Year moved to 1 January. The theory goes that those who could be tricked into believing that the New Year celebrations was still held on April 1st were referred to as April Fools.

Gregorian Calendar replaced the Julian Calendar

Another theory is that the timing is related to the arrival of spring (in the northern hemisphere) when nature fools mankind with fickle weather.

Yet another theory, contained in The Country Diary of Garden Lore says that April Fool’s day is thought to commemorate the fruitless mission of the rook who was sent out in search of land from Noah’s flood-encircled ark.

Finally, there is a theory that the date ties in with the Roman end of winter celebration known as Hilaria and the end of the Celtic new year festival.

April Fool’s Day is celebrated everywhere

Roman celebration Hilaria

Whatever the truth of its etymology is, April Fool’s Day has developed to the point where it is recognised in many countries and cultures and is now celebrated in the media, academia and by children everywhere.

Here are some examples of clever April Fool hoaxes which illustrate that they have been around for quite some time and occur in many different places.

1698 – people were sent to the Tower Ditch (Tower of London Moat) to watch the Washing of the Lions.

1878 – a New York newspaper reported that Thomas Edison had invented a machine that could transform soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine.

Thomas Edison inventions

1961 – a newspaper in Milan, Italy, reported that authorities had passed a law making it mandatory for horses to be fitted with signalling and brake lights while being ridden through the street of the city.

1975 – the ABC television programme This Day Tonight revealed that Australia would be converting to metric time; 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour with 20 hour days. Seconds would be known as millidays, minutes as centidays and hours to decidays.

2002 – a British supermarket chain ran an advertisement announcing the successful development of a genetically modified whistling carrot. The carrots were engineered to grow with tapered airholes in their sides so that when fully cooked the airholes caused the carrots to emit a 97 decibel signal that they should be removed from the stove.

Tescos whistling carrots

2014 – Kings College Choir released a video announcing that complex regulations made it impractical to continue featuring young boys in the choir so they were forced to find other ways to replicate the pitch of young boys’ voices. Since older members of the choir vetoed the ‘surgical solution’ they adopted a suggestion by the Chemistry Department to use helium. The video featured the choir with certain choristers ‘under the influence ‘of helium.

Remember, if you read or hear something that appears a little too fantastic, check the date you heard it or it was published as it may be part of a tradition that goes back over 500 years!