Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay 

“April fool banaya toh unko gussa aaya” sung by Mohammad Rafi is a popular song of the Hindi film ‘April Fool’ (1964) produced and directed by Subodh Mukherji. The film stars Biswajeet and Saira Banu in the principal roles. Ashok, the hero of the film, is a slacker who chooses 1st April to play pranks with Madhu, the heroine, and at last both fall in love with each other.

Day of Jokes:

1st April is celebrated in many countries including in India as April Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day for centuries. The day is observed playing practical jokes and hoaxes to fool the recipients. The players at last expose their harmless trickeries and burst out with laughter befooling the recipients and shout “April Fools”. Though the day is widely celebrated, it is not a public holiday except in Odessa in Ukraine. The traditional Humorina (festival of humour) is celebrated with many smiles in the streets and practical jokes with varying degrees of originality.

Origin & History:

Though April Fools’ Day has been celebrated for centuries by different cultures, the exact origin of the celebration is still a mystery. According some historians, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar called Gregorian Calendar in place of Julian Calendar in 1582. France adopted the reformed calendar. France instead of celebrating the New Year during the week between March 25 and April 1 shifted New Year’s Day to 1st January. But many people who were either ignorant of the reform or reluctant to accept the new date, continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. Those folks who refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the change were mocked as ‘April Fools’.

There is also a wider dimension behind the origin of the history of the day. The celebration of the day is considered by many to have a connection with the vernal equinox that falls on March 20 or March 21, the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Mother Nature with her unpredictable weather during the period fools people. April Fools’ Day is also believed to have well resemblance with Hilaria celebrated by the Romans as a feria sativa on vernal equinox in honour of Goddess Cybele. The festival was devoted to merry making and rejoicing.

How Celebrated:

The pranksters tease the fools with practical jokes and hoaxes in a variety of ways. Children in France try to stick a fish picture on their friends’ back. They shout ‘poisson d’Avril’ or April Fish when the joke is discovered. April Fish refers to a young fish that can be easily caught. In Scotland 1st April is celebrated as Gowkie Day. For the gowk symbolises foolish persons. April Fools’ Day celebration is extended in Scotland as the 2nd April is observed as Tailie Day with pinning fake tails or signs reading ‘kick me’ on people’s derrieres.

Reference in Literature:

However, there are some earliest references of April Fools’ Day. Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400) in his Nun’s Priest’s Tale narrates the story of trickery. The story is how the vanity of a conceited rooster, Chauntecleer, while flaunting how splendidly he crows leads him to be trapped in a fox’s trickery. The vain fox is then carrying the rooster away in his mouth to relish his tongue. But he is outwitted by the rooster who advises him to mock its pursuers. The fox persuaded by the latter opens its mouth to do so and taking advantage of the fox, Chauntecleer flies to safety up into a tree. The tale of trickery takes place on ‘Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two’. The line signifies 32 March i.e. 1st April. It is purported by many that Chaucer set the tale on April 1 as an allusion to April Fools’ Day.

April Fools’ Day reference may be discerned in the French term ‘Poisson d’Avril’ i.e. ‘April Fish’ that appeared in several late-medieval 15th century French poems including in the works of the poets like Pierre Michault and Eloy d’Amerval. In a comical poem “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach/ Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach” written by a Flemish writer Eduard De Dene in 1561, a nobleman is found sending his servant back and forth in absurd errands to help prepare for a wedding feast. At last the servant recognizes the prank that his master is trying to pull on him as the day is 1st April. The origin of April Fools’ Day is also ascribed to the Dutch victory over the Spanish duke Alvarez de Toledo. On 1st April in 1572, the town of Den Briel was captured by Dutch rebels from the Spanish troops leading to the independence of the Netherlands from Spain. A line of a short rhyme taught to Dutch students to commemorate the historic day is thus: Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril which means “On April 1st Alva lost his glasses”. Here ‘Bril’ which means glasses in Dutch is also the homonym of Den Briel. There is a funny legendary story in Augsburg in Germany that is said to have been the origin of the custom of playing pranks. On April 1, 1530 a meeting of lawmakers was supposed to occur in Augsburg in order to unify the state coinage. Unscrupulous speculators, who had been informed about the meeting beforehand, began to trade currencies in preparation, to make profit from the change. But the meeting was not held because of time considerations and the law could not be promulgated. As a result, the speculators who had bet on the meeting occurring lost their money and were ridiculed.

Variety of Hoaxes:

There are hundreds of creative hoaxes and pranks relating to April Fools’ Day that have historical significance all over the world. On April 1, 1698, people in London were sent to the Tower of Ditch to see the annual ceremony of the washing for lions at the Tower of London. But there was no washing ceremony of lions. This is considered the earliest April Fools’ Day hoax on record. After about one and a half centuries pranksters had even printed fake tickets. A huge crown gathered outside the tower only to be disappointed as no lions had been kept in the tower for decades.

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest hoax on 1st April, 1957 is one of the most popular April Fools’ Day jokes in history. The BBC news show Panorama broadcast that by the grace of mild winter and virtual disappearance of spaghetti weevil, there was bumper spaghetti harvest. Richard Dimbleby, the anchor of the show, narrated the details of the crop. When people wanted to know about the plantation of the crop, the BBC diplomatically replied to place spring spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best. Even the director-general of the BBC was the subject to the playful hoax as he later admitted that he also checked in an encyclopaedia to find how spaghetti actually grew.

Another April Fools’ Day hoax that created a great sensation among a large number of people in the US was the Taco Liberty Bell hoax. On April 1, 1996, the Taco Bell Corporation circulated a full-page advertisement in six major newspapers reading that it had purchased the Liberty Bell to reduce the country’s date. The bell was renamed Taco Liberty Bell. Thousands of enraged people called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to exhibit their anger. At last, they calmed down when Taco Bell announced that it was all a practical hoax.

On April 1, 1992, Talk of the Nation programme of National Public Radio broadcast that Richard Nixon was expressing his desire to be the President of the USA once again. His campaign slogan was “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again”. The announcement was accompanied by audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. The announcement passed a shock wave among the audience. Finally, the host of the show John Hockenberry revealed that it was a prank and the voice of Nixon was impersonated by Rich Little, a comedian.

A mathematical hoax in the year 1998 created much excitement among mathematicians. The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter covered an interesting article. It suggested that the Alabama legislature had voted to change the value of pi from 3.14159 to the ‘Biblical value’ of 3.0. Hundreds of protesters vehemently protested the legislation. The original was penned by Mark Boslough, a physicist.

Fake News in Press:

However, the press all over the world does not lag behind in publishing fake headlines as April fool pranks and hoaxes. There are many notable April Fools’ Day hoaxes that fool readers. In 1840 the Boston Post announced that a cave full of treasure had been discovered beneath Boston Common. The announcement of a ‘grand exhibition of donkeys’ published by the Evening Star of Islington in 1864 turned the crowd that gathered outside the Agricultural Hall into donkeys. The photograph of a man flying by his own lung power published in a large number of newspapers in 1934 was an excellent science hoax. The news of Pennsylvania Flying saucer published in The Progress with a picture of a flying saucer confused the world in 1950. In the same year the Cologne Neue Illustrierte published the picture of Extraterrestrial Silverman to fool its readers. Actually, it was the picture of a tiny, aluminium-covered man. There are a plethora of April Fools’ Day pranks published by the press to fool the readers.


Ironically, in the modern day of post truth and fake news, everyday seems like April Fools’ Day. Political leaders are fooling the public during election campaigns to win election after election. Surprisingly, ordinary voters are being fooled as they have no choice before them. 

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