April Fools’ Day and its origins
“Mama, why is April One referred to as April Fools’ Day?”, nine-year-old Lambee asked his mother. The mother who was astonished about the question promised to find out the history behind the day for little Lambee when she gets to work.
It was said that in 1708 a correspondent also wrote to the British Apollo magazine asking, “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?” The question is one that many people are still asking today.
I recall when we were growing up, each year on the said day we will go out to play practical jokes on families and friends, yet we did not take the trouble to find out the genesis of the day that we always yearn to celebrate.
“I remembered vividly, my big brother and I pull a prank on our father’s best friend which landed us in big trouble. We were made to return the fish we collected from the man after we were given severe lashes since then we stopped engaging in April Fools’ Day jokes,” James Boakye confided in this reporter.
April Fools’ Day, also called All Fools’ Day, is said to have been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, though its exact origins remain a mystery. Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563.
People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the New Year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1, became the butt of jokes and hoaxes. These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There’s also the speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
It is held that English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day in 1700 by playing practical jokes on each other.
April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, the symbol for a fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s buttocks, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.
In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and Websites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences.
In 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop yield and showed a footage of people harvesting noodles from trees – numerous viewers were fooled. In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.
In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.
Ghanaian Media is not left out in this prank spree as some private radio and television stations always engage in such jokes every year. For example, TV3, a private Television Station, announced during its major news bulletin on March 31, 2015 at 19 hours and tweeted that its news anchor Nana Aba Anamoah had resigned.
Contrary to that information that got many talking, the news presenter was beaming with smiles the following morning as she hosted the station’s morning show, New Day.
So each and everyone should be alert tomorrow, Friday, as neighbours and friends would want to ‘play the fool’ with unsuspecting, ignorant fellows. The fun starts from morning to mid-day after which it becomes unacceptable for anyone to “fool” people again.
‘April Fool’ has lost its prominence around the world in recent years, but all the same it is good to unfold the mysteries surrounding it for the benefit of the younger generation.
By Patience Azaglo Gbeze