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The History and Importance of April Fools' Day

Posted on Apr 1, 2016 11:50:29 AM by healtheo360

April Fools’ Day (also known as All Fools’ Day) is celebrated every year on April 1st by playing practical jokes and spreading hoaxes.  The jokes and their victims are called April fools.  Some newspapers, magazines, and other published media report fake stories, which are usually explained the next day or below the news section in small letters.  Although popular since the 19th century, April Fools’ Day is not a public holiday in any country.

What are the Origins of April Fools’ Day?

 Who exactly deserves the honor of performing the first April Fools joke remains in dispute, as the history of this unofficial holiday is a bit murky.  Some historians believe that April Fools’ Day has its origins in ancient Rome, with a festival known as “Hilaria.”  Usually celebrated March 25, Hilaria was a day for games, masquerades, and relentless mocking.  The two-day Hindu celebration Holi, the Persian festival Sizdah Bedar and the Jewish holiday Purim also fall in early spring.  While not directly about tricking people, both holidays involve various forms of merriment and frivolity- throwing colored powder, picnicking outside, dressing in costume, etc.  There’s no direct evidence that April Fools’ Day came from any of these celebrations, but they all reveal an instinct to respond to the arrival of spring with festive mischief.  Credit may lie with the Catholic Church and its “Feast of Fools,” which was celebrated around January 1st in medieval France and England.  Church officials originally encouraged the carnival-like celebration, believing it helped release pent-up anti-clerical sentiment among the people.  However, it was banned by the 15th century as it was decided that the feast had become too raucous.  It would be several hundred years before people stopped celebrating the “Feast of Fools.”  The church is also implicated in the most accepted theory about the evolution of April Fools’ Day.  Pope Gregory XIII issued a decree in the late 1500s ordering Christian countries to adopt a standardized calendar that moved the new year from the end of March to the first of January.  People who continued to celebrate on the old day were mocked as “April fools.”

april fools day

Could April Fools’ Day be a Positive Thing?

 Turns out you should let loose today.  Scientists claim it’s not only OK, but such humor plays a significant role in American culture and society, and also helps humans bond with each other.  It is a way to vent built up energy and tension.  People get one day to misbehave and then the important part is that at the end of the day they have to return to normal behavior.  This ritual enforces the social norm of good behavior because of the need to accept the social norms again at the end of the day.  This release once in a while is thought to be incredibly important to society, as humor ameliorates the tensions that exist in society.  Pulling pranks can also be important for bonding.  Being able to joke and poke fun with others helps to build social relationships, and laughter itself is stress relieving.  Teasing is connected with a sense of trust.  We can play these games with each other and we trust each other sufficiently that we won’t get angry, that we will remain friends despite temporary uncomfortableness.  Pranks and hoaxes also play an important role in development because they play off of our gullibility.  The process of going from childhood to adulthood involves learning that not everything people say is true.  April Fools’ Day is a constant reminder of the passage from childhood to adulthood.

april fools day

Famous April Fools’ Pranks

 People have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ day hoaxes.  Newspapers, radio, TV stations, and websites have participated in the April 1st 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 and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees.  Numerous viewers were fooled.  In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a fake article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.  In 1996, Taco Bell 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,” many clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.

Washington Post

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