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The Hilarious History of April Fool’s Day

March 28th, 2013 Seasonal

April Fool's Day is a time when offices and homes are rigged with extensive practical jokes that are considered hilarious by lovers of shenanigans. Even the media can be swept up in the fervor of the holiday, as many elaborate hoaxes have been reported throughout the years. Read on to learn the history and some of the more notable pranks.

Did you know many historians believe April Fool's day may have been a holiday for nearly 500 years? This fun and silly holiday, now focused on playing practical jokes on friends, may have began as a joke played in France on people who hadn't heard that the Gregorian calendar had moved its start date from April first to January first, according to Yahoo News. In 1562, Pope Gregory XIII officially changed the calendar, but channels of communication were much slower than today, so it took years for the word to get around. Because of this, many people who were less connected to papal activity were left believing that New Year's still took place in April. These unfortunate folks were often sent on fake errands and invited to non-existent parties, thus becoming the world's first April Fools.

While this is the most popular theory, many historians will point out that the true origins of the holiday are still a mystery. Some speculate that its roots are in ancient Rome while others give the credit to Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Regardless of its origin, April Fool's Day soon made its way to the U.S. and many other countries as a holiday dedicated to fun and mischief.

Spaghetti Harvest
Many individuals participate in April Fool's Day, larger organizations often get into the fray themselves. One of the most famous instances of this was in 1957 when the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) aired a news segment about the especially fruitful spaghetti harvest that spring in Switzerland and Italy. The segment showed a Swedish family plucking dangling spaghetti strands off of trees, putting them in a basket and then laying them out to dry. It was artfully explained that all the pasta strands were all the same length due to careful breeding by spaghetti farmers and that a cold March could severely impair the flavor of the crop.

The narrator, Richard Dimbleby, was a very common broadcasting personality at the time, and the inclusion of his voice along with the professional style of the piece led many viewers to believe what they saw without hesitation. So many were fooled that BBC received a number of serious phone calls from their viewers asking where they could purchase spaghetti bushes, according to the news organization. While spaghetti is now a very common dish, it was less so in the 1950s, so more people were inclined to believe that the pasta grew on trees and bushes.

Liberty Bell
In the spring of 1995, five major U.S. newspapers ran a story that fast food chain Taco Bell was purchasing the Liberty Bell and moving it to California in order to help the country with its debt, according to National Geographic. The story may seem obviously fake, but that did not stop hundreds of callers from venting their frustrations to Philadelphia's National Historical Park. Soon after the story broke nationally, Taco Bell took credit for its hoax, although it saw a significant sales bump for the next few days as a result of its clever marketing.

While these pranks took place on a national scale, April Fool's Day is really about tricking your friends and coworkers. This holiday, try to have some safe fun with a tradition that spans hundreds of years.