April Fool’s: outdated or updated?

Most people have heard of April Fool’s Day; the half-hearted holiday dedicated to ridiculing friends, family, and colleagues by playing practical jokes on them before midday on the 1st of April in Britain or for two days in Scotland. It might be viewed as lighthearted to draw out a giggle from those witnessing the prank. However, others now question whether the day is ignored by individuals due to the increasing numbers of pranks and jokes that are embedded in today’s culture, such as in programs like ‘Impractical Jokers’, and because of the increasing concerns of governments due to Health and Safety fears. The Gryphon explores where April Fool’s day comes from and what lies in its future.

Undoubtedly, you will have experienced being on the wrong end of an April Fool’s joke, such as sugar switched for salt, a whoopee cushion, or a fake spider in your bed, but have you ever thought of where the tradition originated from? Actually the origins of the day remain a complete mystery, with Jack Santino, a folklorist, stating the explanations are “often as foolish as the day itself”. The most common explanation for the day’s origin is the ‘Calendar Change Theory’: Pope Gregory XIII switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, meaning that New Year’s Day fell on January 1st rather than April 1st. However, historians speculate that some individuals, such as those in rural areas of France, failed to get the news of the change which led to them celebrating New Year on the 1st April and becoming part of jokes such as getting a paper fish put on their back and being called a poisson d’avril (an April fish), symbolising a gullible, young person. In contrast, Alex Boese, the creator of the Museum of Hoaxes, argues that April Fool’s Day was influenced by ancient worldwide renewal festivals celebrating the start of Spring.

The tradition of fooling people is said to have spread to Britain by the eighteenth century and even led to Scotland having a two-day tradition of trickery. This entails sending people on silly errands on the first day, called ‘hunting the gowk’’. The second day, called Tailie Day, is traditionally associated with only focusing on pranks on the derrière of individuals, such as pinning fake tails on someone or putting ‘kick me’ signs on them.

Nevertheless, nowadays the tradition’s raucousness seems to be a thing of the past and something soon to possibly become history. For instance, the Independent discussed how Britain’s Health and Safety Executive has ordered an investigation into the risks of practical jokes in the workplace, acting on numerous complaints. More shockingly, in 2001 Saudi Arabia’s chief cleric argued that April Fool’s Day was a practice of organised lying and that respectful Muslims should not participate in the day whatsoever. Moreover, a 2008 survey by the Independent found that 60% of those who did not play tricks on people was because they feared a backfire and saw the risks as too large. This was certainly an issue in the prank memo Glenn Howlett received from his colleagues, saying he had a major report due in two weeks; this led to him rushing back from holiday, suffering heart palpitations and eventually entering early retirement, losing an estimated $20,000 a year compared to what his original pension would have given him.

However, the increasing media focus on April Fool’s Day is normally just a bit of fun to trick people for a light laugh. For instance, one of the first instances was in 1957 when the BBC told viewers that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record rate of spaghetti crops being harvested due to the disappearance of the spaghetti weevil. More recently, in 2015, Google did a fake product launch of ‘Google Panda’, a new adorable take on voice enabled searches with a toy panda; Amazon redesigned its web page to look like it did in 1999; and shoe-seller, Miz Mooz, even introduced the ‘selfie shoe’.

The increasing media focus on April Fool’s Day suggests a change in the atmosphere of the day in contrast to its origins and hoaxes carried out in Scotland. However, as Georgia (a second year Fine Art student) states, “people need to laugh more”, with her grandfather even participating in the day when he swapped all the food labels on the tins in their cupboard around, causing her grandmother to not know whether she was opening dog food or tins of custard for months! Consequently, as long as the line is not pushed too far, surely the fun of April Fool’s Day, with or without the media’s involvement, is just a bit of light hearted humour to take us away from the increasingly stressful world we live in today?

Philippa Poole

Image: Nito (Juan Moyano Mangas)

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