What is a globally recognized holiday that celebrates having a good sense of humor? April Fools! Celebrated on April 1st, April Fools’ Day is a non-religious associated holiday with roots dating back to the 16th century. On this day, people are often given impossible tasks or false information in a light-hearted way. In other words, April Fools’ Day is a celebration of gullible people. In the past 70 years or so, large companies with a lot of visibility have used the holiday to prank people, sometimes even all over the world. Today, we will dig into this popular holiday, and discuss many of the famous pranks associated with it in recent years.
History of April Fools’ Day
According to History.com, April Fools’ Day is thought to have originated in 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one. People unaware of the new calendar did not know that the start of the new year was moved to January 1st, and still celebrated it the last week of March through April 1st. These people became targets of jokes, such as being tagged with a paper fish on their backs and referred to as “poisson d’avril” – or April Fish – marking them as a green or gullible person.
Modern practices include sending a friend or loved one on a fool’s errand, playing pranks, and trying to get people to believe ridiculous things (source). A fool’s errand is a journey that leads to an impossible task. This is thought to have origins in Scotland in the 18th century, where the holiday was celebrated over two days, and people began by “hunting the gowk” on the first day. Here, gowk is a word for cuckoo bird and signified the thing that the person was looking to find in the task that did not exist. Snipe hunting is a modern interpretation of this activity. Now that we have an idea of how this holiday came to be, let’s discuss some of the more famous April Fools’ Day pranks.
Famous April Fools’ Day Pranks
One of the first pranks to hit the world stage on April Fools’ Day came from BBC in 1957, who ran a segment on how the Swiss Spaghetti farmers were having a great year thanks to warm weather and the elimination of the spaghetti weevil (source). This resulted in throngs of viewers calling in, inquiring about how to grow their own spaghetti tree – two words that you may never see together again.
Another good one comes from Taco Bell, who in 1996 announced that they had purchased the Liberty Bell “in an effort to help the national debt” and were renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell (source). Even some senators were convinced, and the National Park Service followed up by holding a press conference to deny the news.
Not to be outdone, in 1998 Burger King announced a new product: the Left-Handed Whopper, intended for the 36 million left-handed Americans, and which had all of its condiments rotated 180˚. This led to thousands of customers coming into Burger King stores, asking to try the new product.
Finally, in 2004 Google released announcements that they were adding new job postings at Google Copernicus, a research station on the moon (source). Alongside Copernicus, Google also announced Gmail, a webmail service offering 1 GB of free storage. At the time, this amount of storage blew out of the water other offerings such as Hotmail with 2 MB of free storage. As we know today, the Gmail announcement was not a hoax and actually helped people to see the value in cloud storage, something that is revolutionizing the way that people do business on the internet.
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