March 31, 2011

April Fool Day

April 1 is the one day each year where even the most sensible person becomes vulnerable to the types of pranks usually only drunk kids find hilarious — consider the classic “loosen the salt shaker lid” trick. These types of juvenile pranks practiced on April Fool’s Day seem far removed from a holiday that began in the 1500s. While its exact origins are dubious, associate professor Amy Bix, associate professor of history who teaches history of American pop culture, said some historians believe April Fool’s began in France during the switch from the Julian calendar to the modern Gregorian calendar.

Before these calendar changes were instated, Bix said, people would celebrate the new year April 1, instead of Jan. 1. However, some people didn’t get the memo regarding the calendar changes and proceeded to celebrate April 1, which made them the brunt of ridicule and thus fools – April fools, if you will.

However, this theory may be too simplistic, and there is no evidence that the actual origins of the holiday lie in this account, Bix said.

“It’s not impossible, but there’s no reason to take it as historical gospel,” Bix said.

Bix said there is also history dating back centuries of people playing jokes and teasing one another in the Roman era.

Considering all the possible origins, there is no simple answer to where and when this holiday actually began, but Bix said spring is historically a time to celebrate the rebirth of nature, and April Fool’s Day may have broader connections to spring festivals. April 1 is the one day a year where it’s historically acceptable to “suspend your normal routine,” Bix said. “People accept that to blow off steam.”

So go ahead and Saran-Wrap a friend’s car, because April 1 is the only day when that’s considered a light-hearted prank.

Historic April Fools’ pranks:

Memorable pranks throughout history — information from “Museum of Hoaxes” compiled by curator Alex Boese:

In 1996, Taco Bell released a statement announcing the corporation had bought the historic Liberty Bell and had plans to rename it “The Taco Liberty Bell.”

In 2008 BBC released a video of Antarctic flying penguins. BBC explained that the penguins took flight to escape the harsh Antarctic temperatures and traveled to South America.

In 1995, the Disney Corporation supposedly made negotiations with the Russian government to purchase the body of Communist leader Vladmir Lenin to display in a mausoleum at Euro Disney.

In 1940, a press agent from the Franklin Institute released a statement announcing astronomers discovered the world would end tomorrow. A radio station broadcast the news, which the public found fairly upsetting.

In 1957, a BBC news report featured a report about the harvest of a spaghetti crop in Switzerland. The report cited the elimination of the “spaghetti weevil” and a mild winter for the Spaghetti harvest. People actually believed this.

In 1998, Burger King released an advertisement announcing their “left-handed Whopper,” as a brand new menu item. The ingredients remained the same, but were shifted 180 degrees to accommodate left-handed people.

In 2002, a British grocery store announced it had created a genetically-modified carrot with holes along its side that would allow the vegetable to whistle when fully cooked.

April Fools’ Day memories:

Andy Mumgons, senior in computer engineering: “I don’t really have any memory of pranks happening on April Fool’s, but it is my dad’s birthday on April Fool’s Day and no one seems to believe me.”

Brooke Palmer, junior in history: “One year I pranked my grandma and told her I was pregnant. She was pretty speechless to be honest. She’s a pretty colorful woman, though.”

Ashley Skjerping, sophomore in business marketing: “I think I was in middle school and I didn’t want to go to school that day so I poured a can of soup into the toilet bowl and told my mom that it was puke. I didn’t go to school that day.”

Matt Bogaard, junior in animal ecology: “Last year my roommate tried to get my other roommate with the rubber band over the nozzle on the faucet prank. He got me the next morning before class. I had to go class with a wet T-shirt and it was cold.”

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