April 1, or April Fools’ as it is commonly known, gives pranksters around the world one day a year where practical jokes are not only allowed, but expected.
Despite the popularity of April Fools’ Day in the United States and Europe, the origins of April 1 as a day for jokes remains a mystery. Perhaps this makes the joke even more so on us as a society.
Some theorize that April Fools’ Day dates back to the 16th century when many European countries began switching from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.
This change moved the start of the year from the end of March and beginning of April to the beginning of January. In the pre-mass media culture of the time, some were slow to hear about the change and continued to celebrate the new year in early April.
In France, people who failed to observe the new year at the right time were sometimes pranked by having paper fish stuck to their backs. These “April Fish,” as they became called, represented gullibility through the metaphor of an easily-caught fish.
Some historians trace April Fools’ even further back in time to the Roman festival of Hilaria, which was held in late March. This holiday featured masks, feasting, joking and colorful costumes.
Still others believe April Fools’ Day can be traced to the vernal equinox and the joke that the weather’s lion/lamb changeability plays on us this time of year. Regardless of how it came about, April Fools’ is a peak time for pranks on both small and large scales.
Honorable, or perhaps dishonorable, mentions of great April Fools’ Day jokes of history include Taco Bell’s claim to buy the Liberty Bell in 1996, a Swedish news station’s claim that stretching a nylon stocking over a black-and-white TV would change the picture to color, a BBC news program running a story about spaghetti being harvested from trees in 1957, a UFO-shaped hot air balloon landing in London in 1989 and a fake iceberg being towed into Sydney harbor in 1978.
While you may not be able to afford a UFO hot air balloon, there are many ways you can prank your friends and family for some much-welcomed catharsis.
The best jokes for both pranksters and prank victims follow the simple principle “confuse, not abuse.” Rather than mean-spiritedly belittling, humiliating or damaging the property of those being pranked, the best pranks merely severely bewilder those having the joke played on them.
Examples of this in action include plastering your roommate’s desk or possessions with sticky notes, sticking printouts of faces to the outside of windows, dyeing peoples beverages with flavorless food coloring or moving someone’s things a few inches in one direction each time they’re not looking.
Or you can use these examples as the basis for inventing your own unique type of prank, now that these are spoiled. You can also use the holiday as an excuse to flex your creative abilities and create an elaborate hoax.
You can even involve several friends to make it seem more credible to your victims. Just make sure they are told the truth by the end of the day.
April Fools’ Day can be a wonderful way to release stress by having a little innocent fun with others. However, it can also keep us humble by reminding us how silly we and the world as a whole really are.
As Mark Twain once said of April 1, “This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.”