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The History of April Fools
April Fools is a day where you find yourself doubting everything, never knowing if even your beloved grandma is ready to make you look like a punk. While it’s well-established now, how did this tradition of deceit start? As it turns out, there’s no solid answer as to where April Fools’ Day came from. Possible theories date back centuries, and include tying the event to religious festivals, the vernal equinox, and issues with a new calendar.
The calendar theory says that the people who were slow to adapt to the changing dates on the calendar, and therefore celebrating the new year on the old date (end of March through April) were mocked. In France, the fools were referred to as “poisson d’Avril” (April fish), meaning they were easily caught or tricked. Though doubted by historians, this theory is my personal favorite because the prank of choice included putting paper fish on their backs, which was memorialized in the incredibly sassy postcard seen above.
Vague literary references and legends date back to the 1300’s, but it wasn’t until the early 18th century in Britain that the holiday was fully established in writing. By that time, the classic “kick me sign” and other fun jokes had been popularized. Whatever it’s exact origins were, we know that it has evolved into a day where anything goes. Here are some of my favorite April Fools’ pranks from history, guaranteed to make you think twice about every news report you hear for the rest of the month:
1957: The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
A reputable news source + a trusted anchor = the perfect formula to get people to believe a bogus news story. Thought to be the first April Fools’ prank where television was used, this classic prank from a British news station featured a short segment about the annual spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. Back in the 1950s, the BBC was one of only two channels British viewers had available, and spaghetti was still a rarity in their culture. All of these factors led to a huge response from the audience, with hundreds of people calling in to find out if they could cultivate the elusive spaghetti plant themselves. The BBC’s official response? “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Once again, the pranksters at BBC sought to destroy people’s relationship with food. A segment aired on the network featuring a professor who claimed to have created “smell-o-vision,” which he said transmitted food smells from the TV studio into viewers homes. With viewers from across the country calling in to confirm the technology, and some even claiming onion smells made their eyes water, the hoax was a huge success. I have never sympathized more for a child of the 1960s. No one should ever have to associate the smell of their favorite foods with feelings of mistrust.
1971: Texas Honors the Boston Strangler
That title is what sensationalist journalists’ dreams are made of. This prank is a double whammy: a statement on the carelessness in politics, and just a classic way to make your coworkers look really dumb. In 1971, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that recognized Albert DeSalvo as a “compassionate gentleman,” as well as his “noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.” So yes, this unanimously passed bill was glorifying the Boston Strangler. Two reps came up with the idea to prove that no one really reads the bills they’re given, and the end result could not have been more perfect. No word as to what other serial killers the House chose to make national heroes.
1996: The Taco Liberty Bell
I know many people who would consider it unpatriotic to turn down a meal at Taco Bell. Luckily for the brains behind this prank, they were too young at the time to voice an opinion on the matter. In 1996, the fast-food chain took out ads in several major American newspapers, announcing that they would be purchasing and renaming the cultural icon. They said this was to help alleviate national debt, while promising to still keep it on public display. As expected, a ton of people called in to angrily complain. Apparently the general public would rather have an economic collapse than see a national icon owned by the home of the quesarito. So be it!
2014: Cheeteau Perfume
Lastly, our most recent example is like a hybrid between a prank and reality. In 2014, Snack giant Cheetos announced the production of their first fragrance, the beautifully named Cheeteau. With a print ad, commercial, and even an entire website to back it, this was a nice amount of effort for an April Fools’ prank. But would they stop there? Oh no. The company went so far as to manufacture actual bottles of the fragrance and hand out free, limited-edition samples. The brand’s mascot Chester described it as “bursting with sensual, cheesy aromas,” which might just be my new favorite sentence of all time. Apparently the scent did the snack justice, and there seems to be an actual demand for it. The best discoveries happen on accident!
Do you have a favorite prank from history you want to share? Or are you just super inspired to cause your own holiday havoc? Let us know in the comments!