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by Dr Leo Ruickbie
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April's Fool to Walpurgisnacht
April Fool's Day or All Fools' Day is a traditional custom celebrated in many countries on the 1st of April. The day is marked by hoaxes and other practical jokes being played on people with the aim of making 'fools' of them.
April Fool's Day
The origin of this custom has been much disputed, and many theories have been suggested, e.g. that it is a farcical commemoration of Christ being sent from Annas to Caiaphas, from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, and from Herod back again to Pilate, the crucifixion having taken place about the 1st of April.
What seems certain is that it is in some way or other a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on old New Year's day, the 25th of March, ended on the 1st of April. This view gains support from the fact that the exact counterpart of April-fooling is found to have been an immemorial custom in India. The festival of the spring equinox is there termed the feast of Huli, the last day of which is the 31st of March, upon which the chief amusement is the befooling of people by sending them on fruitless errands.
It has been plausibly suggested that Europe derived its April-fooling from the French . They were the first nation to adopt the reformed Gregorian calendar, Charles IX in 1564 decreeing that the year should begin with the 1st of January. Thus the New Year's gifts and visits of felicitation which had been the feature of the 1st of April became associated with the first day of January, and those who disliked or did not hear about the change were fair butts for those wits who amused themselves by sending mock presents and paying calls of pretended ceremony on the 1st of April.
However, it is unlikely that this explanation of April Fool's Day’s origin is correct. Well before 1582 when King Charles IX of France brought in the new Gregorian calendar, French and Dutch references from respectively 1508 and 1539 describe April Fool's Day jokes and the custom of making them on the first of April.
Though the 1st of April appears to have been anciently observed in Great Britain as a general festival, it was apparently not until the beginning of the 18th century that the making of April-fools was a common custom. In Scotland the custom was known as "hunting the gowk," i.e. the cuckoo, and April-fools were "April-gowks," the cuckoo being there, as it is in most lands, a term of contempt. In France the person befooled is known as poisson d'avril. This has been explained from the association of ideas arising from the fact that in April the sun quits the zodiacal sign of the fish. A far more natural explanation would seem to be that the April fish would be a young fish and therefore easily caught.
Traditionally, pranks are to be performed before noon. Those done afterwards are supposed to bring bad luck to the perpetrator. This stipulation may have been contrived by annoyed parents and school teachers wanting a respite from a full day of pranks. Anyone who fails to respond with a sense of humor to the tricks played on them is also said to be liable to suffer bad luck. It is said that one fooled by a pretty girl will later marry, or at least become friends, with her.
It is believed that marriage on April Fools' Day is inadvisable for a man, for he will be permanently ruled by his wife. Children born on this day will experience good luck in most matters, except when it comes to gambling.
Many media organizations have either unwittingly or deliberately propagated hoaxes on April Fools' Day. Even normally serious news media consider April Fools' Day hoaxes fair game, and spotting them has become an annual pastime. The advent of the Internet as a worldwide communications medium has also assisted the pranksters in their work.
Alabama Changes the Value of Pi: The April 1998 newsletter of New Mexicans for Science and Reason contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi to the "Biblical value" of 3.0.
Spaghetti trees: The BBC television program Panorama ran a famous hoax in 1957, showing the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. A lot of people wanted spaghetti trees of their own.
Left Handed Whoppers: In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, saying that people could get a Whopper for left-handed people whose condiments were designed to drip out the right side.
Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to "reduce the country's debt" and renamed it the "Taco Liberty Bell." When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied with tongue in cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
Lies to Get You Out of the House In 1985, the L.A. Weekly printed an entire page of fake things to do on April Fools day, which hundreds of people were suckered in by.
Kremvax: In 1984, in one of the earliest on-line hoaxes, a message was circulated that Usenet had been opened to users in the Soviet Union.
San Serriffe: The Guardian printed a supplement in 1977 praising this fictional resort, its two main islands (Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse), its capital (Bodoni), and its leader (General Pica). Intrigued readers were later disappointed to learn that sans serif did not exist except as references to typeface terminology.
FBI Crackdowns on On-line File Sharing of Music: Such announcements on April Fools Day have become common.
Metric time: Repeated several times in various countries, this hoax involves claiming that the time system will be changed to a one where units of time vary by powers of 10.
Smell-o-vision: In 1965, the BBC purported to conduct a trial of a new technology allowing the transmission of odor over the airwaves to all viewers. Many viewers reportedly contacted the BBC to report the trial's success.
Tower of Pisa: The Dutch television news reported once in the 1950s that the Tower of Pisa had fallen. Many shocked and even mourning people contacted the station.
Wrapping Televisions in Foil: In another year, the Dutch television news reported that the government had new technology to detect unlicensed televisions (in many European countries, television licence fees fund public broadcasting), but that wrapping a television in aluminium foil could prevent its detection. Within a few hours, aluminium foil was sold out throughout the country.
Sidd Finch: George Plimpton wrote a 1985 article in Sports Illustrated about a New York Mets prospect who could throw a 168 mph fastball with pinpoint accuracy. This kid, known as
"Barefoot" Sidd[hartha] Finch, reportedly learned to pitch in a Buddhist monastery.
Assassination of Bill Gates: Many Chinese and South Korean websites claimed that CNN reported Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, was assassinated.
Write Only Memory: Signetics advertised Write Only Memory IC databooks in 1972 through the late 1970s.
Wheel of Fortune/Jeopardy! Double Switch: In 1997, Pat Sajak, the host of Wheel of Fortune, traded hosting duties with Jeopardy!'s Alex Trebek for one show. In addition to Sajak hosting Jeopardy!, he and co-host Vanna White appeared as contestants on the episode of Wheel hosted by Trebek. White's position was filled by Sajak's wife Leslie.
Comic strip switcheroo: Cartoonists of popularly syndicated comic strips draw each others' strips. In some cases, the artist draws characters in the other strip's milieu, while in others, the artist draws in characters from other visiting characters from his own. Cartoonists have done this sort of "switcheroo" in several years. The 1997 switch was particularly widespread.
The Trouble with Tracy: In 2003, The Comedy Network in Canada announced that it would be producing and airing a remake of the 1970s Canadian sitcom The Trouble with Tracy. The original series is widely considered to be one of the worst sitcoms ever produced. Several media outlets fell for the hoax.
National Television Station (TVM) in Malta: In 1995, TVM announced the discovery of a new underground prehistoric temple with a mummy. Another year, TVM announced that Malta would adopt the European continent convention of driving on the right-hand side of the road.
VeryCD: This P2Pweb site, one of the largest in China, announced in 2005 that it had ceased operation without specifing a cause.
Free wine for all:The Norwegian newspaper "Bergens Tidende" announced in 1987 that the state alcohol monopoly had 10,000 litres of confiscated smuggler-wine. The inhabitants of Bergen were invited to the main store in town to receive their share of the goods, rather than spill good wine down the drain. That morning staff were met by about 200 men & women with bottles, buckets, and other suitable vessels for carrying the prized goods. It should be noted that in Norway alcohol is relatively expensive and has limited availability due to government legislation.
The Canadian news site bourque.org announced in 2002 that Finance Minister Paul Martin had resigned "in order to breed prize Charolais cattle and handsome Fawn Runner ducks." The Canadian dollar dropped to its lowest level in a month before Martin's office debunked the hoax.
SARS Infects Hong Kong: In 2003 it was rumored that many people in Hong Kong had become infected with SARS, that all immigration ports would be closed to quarantine the region, and that Tung Chee Hwa, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong at that time, had resigned. Hong Kong supermarkets were immediately overwhelmed by panicked shoppers. The Hong Kong government held a press conference to deny the rumor. The rumor, which was intended as an April Fool's prank, was started by a student by imitating the design of Ming Pao newspaper website. He was charged for this incident.
China Decapitates Taiwan: In 2005, an undergraduate nicknamed SkyMirage, who was well-known in Taiwan for his humor, fabricated a series of news that China's airforce was bombarding Office of President, Taiwan.
Annual BMW Innovations see a new "cutting-edge invention" by BMW advertised across British newspapers every year , examples including: The "Toot and Calm Horn", which calms rather than aggravates other drivers, so reducing the risk of road rage, MINI cars being used in upcoming space missions to Mars, IDS ("Insect Deflector Screen") Technology - using elastic solutions to bounce insects off the windscreen as you drive SHEF ("Satellite Hypersensitive Electromagnetic Foodration") Technology, which sees the car's GPS systems synchronise with home appliances to perfectly cook a meal for the instant you return home, Marque-Wiper - mini-wipers for each exterior "BMW" logo coming as standard on all future models, "Uninventing the wheel" to counter the "EU ban" on right-hand drive cars.
Death of a Mayor: In 1998, local shock jocks Opie and Anthony reported that Boston mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a car accident. Menino happened to be on a flight at the time, lending truth to the prank as he could not be reached. The rumor spread quickly across the city, eventually causing news stations to issue alerts denying the hoax. The pair were fired shortly thereafter.
Free Concert: Radio station 98.1 KISS in Chattanooga, Tennessee falsely announced in 2003 that rapper Eminem would be doing a free show in a discount store parking lot. Several police were needed to deal with traffic gridlock and enraged listeners who threatened to harm the DJs responsible. Both DJs were later jailed for creating a public nuisance.
New Format: Radio station KFOG in San Francisco, claiming new corporate ownership, switched to a new format - the best 15 seconds of every song! All morning they mixed in bogus calls from perky listeners calling with compliments. This hoax can also be considered a parody of late 1990s media consolidations.)
Sydney Olympics: Australian radio station Triple J breakfast show co-host Adam Spencer announced in 1999 that he had a journalist on the line at the site of a secret IOC meeting and that Sydney had lost the 2000 Summer Olympics. New South Wales Premier Bob Carr was also in on the joke. Mainstream media (including Channel 9's Today Show) picked up the story.
Defy Gravity: In 1976 British astronomer Patrick Moore told listeners of BBC2 that unique alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 a.m. that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience "a strange floating sensation." Dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment had worked.
Shuttle landing: In 1993, a San Diego radio station fooled many listeners into believing that the space shuttle had been diverted from Edwards Air Force Base and was about to make an emergency landing at a small local airport.
Cancellation of the Howard Stern Show: The April 1st, 2004 show started off with an announcement by the station manager stating that due to increased pressure from the FCC, Viacom had cancelled the Howard Stern Show. The station played pop songs until 7:00 am, when Stern came back on.
Change of drinking age: On the Gold Coast, Australia's biggest tourist destination (particularly amongst school leavers), radio station Sea FM announced the drinking age would be changed from 18 to 21. This left a huge number of under 21s angry and frustrated, and incited protests. It was later announced at the Sea FM dance party that it was a hoax.
The Space Needle collapsed in a windstorm on April 1st, 1989. Seattle area TV program Almost Live! set up a phony broadcast room and dressed actors as TV anchors to pull an April Fool's joke of legendary proportions.
The BBC's Saturday lunchtime show 'Football Focus' broadcast a piece centred on the upcoming change of the size of goals. Using West Ham United manager, Harry Redknapp, the report claimed that the size of the goals would increase by two feet in height and four feet in length. Redknapp was being 'interviewed' on the training ground where his goalkeepers were getting to grips with bigger goals. They told the truth on the following week's show, where outtakes of Redknapp messing up his lines were also shown.
One type of April Fool's Day hoax is to leave a message telling someone to telephone Mr. C. Lion or Mr. L. E. Fant (or various others) at a number that turns out to be a zoo. That prank, repeated across many people, causes serious problems for zoos' telephone exchanges.
There have been cases when a hoax in a newspaper caused many readers to send mail to a nonexistent address, causing problems at postal sorting offices.
The April 1 tradition in France includes poisson d'avril (literally "April's fish"), attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim's back without being noticed.
In Spanish-speaking countries, similar pranks are practiced on December 28, 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 Iran, people play jokes on each other on April 3, the 13th day of the Persian calendar new year (Norooz). This day is called "Sizdah bedar" (Out-door thirteen). It is believed that people should go out on this date in order to escape the bad luck of number 13.
In Judaism, the traditional day of pranks, hoaxes and mockery is Purim. However, modern Jews prefer to play pranks on April Fools' day.
April Fool's Day Quotations
"April 1st: This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three-hundred and sixty-four." — Mark Twain
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