The tradition of April Fools’ Day

Have you ever wanted to play a practical joke on one of your friends?

The UK has a 12-hour window today (April 1st) when people take part in the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day. It has evolved into one of the most exciting events of the year, but its origins still remain a mystery.

Many people believe it comes from the birth of a new calendar in 1582. Ancient cultures such as the Romans celebrated New Year’s Day close to April 1st, but much of Europe celebrated March 25th, the Feast of Annunciation, as the beginning of new year.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) to replace the old Julian Calendar. The new calendar called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on January 1. The same year year, France started to use this new calendar and began celebrating New Year’s Day on January 1st. Many people either refused to adopt this new date, or didn’t hear about it, and instead continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st.

People made fun of the traditionalists and sent them ‘fool’s errands’ or tried to trick or hoax them into believing something false. Eventually the practical jokes spread throughout Europe and April Fools’ Day became an annual event.

Today April Fools’ Day is celebrated not just in western societies, but all around the world. Have a quick look on social media today and see if you can track which stories are fake and which aren’t.

In modern times, newspapers, radio and TV stations have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. The BBC once duped many of its viewers, telling them that Swiss farmers experienced a record spaghetti crop in 1957 and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees! Burger King played a prank when they advertised a burger designed for its left-handed customers in 1998.

The Virgin Group, famous for its hoaxes, in 1989 Sir Richard Branson engineered a fake alien landing in Surrey, and in 2002, Virgin Atlantic announced plans to print ads on butterflies. A few years ago they topped themselves by putting out a press release about a new design feature in one of their planes. Check it out here.

The Guardian website is running a live April Fools’ story this morning, you can read it here. But remember tradition dictates that the pranking period must finish at noon. It is believed any jokes played in the afternoon will bring bad luck on the perpetrator!

April Fools’ Day is just one of the strange traditions that is celebrated in Britain every year. Next week we’ll have a look at more weird and wonderful events which take place across the country.


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