April Fool’s Day is a tradition followed in many countries throughout the world. Jokes or pranks are played on people, usually with good-natured intent. The tradition has characteristics similar to holidays, such as Hilaria of ancient Rome, which are related to the spring equinox.
Many theories have been proposed on its origins. One of the oldest concerns the Blessed Bertrando of San Genesio, bishop of Aquileia (at the top of the Adriatic) in the 14th century, who miraculously saved a pope who was suffocating on a fish bone. Out of gratitude, the pontiff decreed that fish should not be eaten in Aquileia on April 1st. Perhaps the most accredited theory places the origins in 16th century France. Under the Julian calendar, the new year had been celebrated between March 25 and April 1, at the time of the spring equinox. With the advent of the Gregorian calendar, the New Year was moved to January 1st, but the news was not immediately understood by everyone. Whether out of ignorance or for the sake of tradition, some people continued to celebrate April 1st. They were viewed as April fools.
In France and Italy, April Fool’s Day or April 1st is called, respectively, poisson d’avril and pesce d’aprile (April fish). Kids stick a paper fish to the backs of their unsuspecting friends and yell “Poisson d’avril” or “Pesce d’aprile” when they discover the prank. Besides the story of the bishop, why fish? One theory takes us back to the time of Cleopatra and her roman lover Mark Anthony. During a fishing competition, to avoid a humiliating defeat, he had secretly instructed a slave to dive underwater and put fish on his hook. Discovering his deception, Cleopatra, as a hoax, arranged to have a giant fish covered in crocodile skin attached to his line. (Crocodiles are not denizens of the Nile.)
Here are 10 favorite pranks over time:
1857: The citizens of London were invited on April 1 to visit the Tower of London to attend the washing of the white lions who lived there. A large crowd gathered…the joke was repeated over the centuries.
1957: A BBC documentary revealed sensational news: Spaghetti grows on trees. It showed a spaghetti plantation in Lugano, Switzerland, where farmers laid out huge strands of pasta on the ground to dry. Farmers there were worried about an impending frost. Viewers called the British broadcaster to ask for instructions on how to grow the special tree.
1961: The newspaper, La notte, announced that Milan had passed a law requiring everyone who owned a horse to affix a license plate that would be recognizable when the horse was trotting about the streets.
1992: All passengers who arrived at the Los Angeles airport were greet with a huge sign saying, “Welcome to Chicago.”
1995: Traditionally, Venetian gondolas are black, in memory of the dead from the plague that struck the lagoon in the 16th century. Twenty-five years ago, on April 1, the Gazzettino di Venezia announced that they would all be painted in bright colors by decision of the city council, in order to better meet the taste of tourists.
1998: The American newspaper, USA Today, published a full-page ad of Burger King’s announcement that it had found a solution for the nearly 1.5 million left-handed clients who visit the chain’s locations every day: The Whopper for southpaws, easier to hold and eat with the left hand, and with less spillage.
2000: The Independent, a British online publisher, reported strange news: Viagra for rabbits.
2010: Google introduced Google Translate for Animals, a translation service from any human language to any animal language, and vice versa.
2013: Saclà, an Italian pasta maker introduced Twitteroni to the British market: a pasta in the form of letters and hashtags
2015: YouTube offered a video of the Reclinomax, a revolution in fitness, which features a comfortable armchair in which you train while sleeping.