Hello all, and congratulations on surviving yet another April Fools’ Day.
Every year on April 1st upon awakening I am struck by a sense of trepidation as I wonder what pranks may befall me over the course of the day. Typically my anxiety is unfounded; any hoaxes of which I am the victim are generally harmless and everyone involved has a good laugh as a result. But what are the origins of this curious tradition? Why do we celebrate a holiday devoted to fooling our friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers? Unfortunately answers to this question vary. One of the most commonly posited theories is that when the western world transitioned away from the use of the Julian Calendar in favor of the Gregorian Calendar, the date that was celebrated as New Year’s Day was changed from April 1st to January 1st. Apparently this date change wasn’t universally accepted, at least initially, and those individuals still celebrating the new year on the old date were dubbed “April Fools”. According the website Snopes.com (a sort of internet clearinghouse for debunking or validating urban legends, rumors, and the like), French peasants would unexpectedly pay visits to neighbors and attempt to fool them into thinking it was New Year’s Day. Purportedly this initial act of good natured duplicity was the seed from which the tradition grew.
That isn’t the only explanation, however. Others theories include that it is connected with the Roman festival of Hilaria or that it has something to do with the vernal equinox and the arrival of spring. There are many more theories and you can read further about them here.
Whatever the origins of the holiday, the yearly tradition remains widely observed, particularly institutionally. In recent years hoaxes have been perpetrated by such diverse organizations as National Public Radio, Burger King, and Google.
The blog Techcrunch has compiled a definitive list of this year’s pranks. One of my favorites was Google Docs offering uploads and storage of literally anything, including physical objects (only one of many Google related hoaxes this year). What pranks made you laugh this year?