The origins of April Fools’ Day are shrouded in mystery; it’s hard to tell which theories about the holiday are true and which are a prank of their own.
The earliest theory of the holiday’s beginnings was that it came from the French New Year celebration, which used to take place later in the year, closer to the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring.
This theory cannot be accurate, according to historians, because the old French New Year actually fell on Easter, not April 1.
In the 1980s, Joseph Boskin, a professor at Boston University, told an Associated Press reporter that the holiday began during the reign of Constantine I in the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries.
Boskin said that it started when a group of court jesters told the emperor they could do his job better than he could. Constantine decided to play along and allow one of the jesters, Kugel, to run the empire for one day, April 1. Kugel then decreed that the day would be forevermore devoted to absurdity.
Unfortunately, the countless newspapers who ran with the story Boskin gave them soon learned that they had been made the fools. He had made the story up as a prank, and “kugel” was just the name of an eastern European meal that his friend had a craving for.
The most likely theory is that the holiday sprouted from the many European festivals that were held to celebrate renewal and the beginning of spring. Pranks were common at these celebrations.
Throughout the years, pranks have changed and evolved in ways that no one could have predicted. In the 1800s, street urchins used to play tricks on London businessmen.
Today, large companies and news sites trick thousands of people with a single online post or news article.
Some famous pranks include Taco Bell buying the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell in 1996, the BBC’s footage of flying penguins in 2008 and recently, the Google Nose Beta, which “leverages new and existing technologies to offer the sharpest olfactory experience available.”
Corporations continue to think of creative pranks each year; it is hard to decide if it is hilarious or sad how many people fall for them.
The U.S. is not the only country celebrating the fête these days, either. France calls April Fools’ Day “Poisson d’Avril,” or “April Fish,” and the common prank among French children is to tape pictures of fish on each other’s backs.
This year, do not be bamboozled; keep an eye on the calendar and do not trust everything you hear.