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April Fools' Day gags, tricks date back hundreds of years -- no joke!

By
Daniel Uria
In 2001, Major League Baseball ran an April Fools gag in New York City's Time Square by hanging a new ad campaign upside down. It was corrected on April 2. File Photo by Ezio Petersen/UPI
In 2001, Major League Baseball ran an April Fools gag in New York City's Time Square by hanging a new ad campaign upside down. It was corrected on April 2. File Photo by Ezio Petersen/UPI | License Photo

April 1 (UPI) -- Elaborate pranks and other hoaxes abound on Monday as people around the world celebrate April Fools' Day -- a tradition born in France more than 400 years ago.

The holiday, also known as All Fools' Day, has uncertain origins -- most commonly traced back to a calendar change in 16th century France, and is commonly marked with jokes and attempts to mislead.

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In recent years some websites have used the occasion to print outrageous and often satirical false news stories and major brands have announced gag products and services -- only to follow them up with "April fools!"

How did it start?

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The most common explanation of how April Fools Day came to be involves France's transition from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. When France made the change, the start of the new year moved to January 1 after having been previously celebrated from the last week of March through April 1. People who failed to adapt to the change immediately became known as "April fools" and became the subjects of jokes and pranks.

The targets of such pranks were referred to as "poisson d'avril" or "April fish" and often had paper fish placed on their backs to symbolize a young, easily caught, gullible fish.

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Some historians have also linked the origins to various other events throughout world history. The Hilaria festival in ancient Rome involved participants dressing in disguises at the end of March, and the Dutch victory over Spanish Duke Alvarez de Toledo at Brielle in the Netherlands on April 1, 1572, was commemorated with the proverb "On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses."

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Other explanations associate the origin with the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, saying it commemorates Mother Nature fooling people with unpredictable weather.

Traditions

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France, Belgium and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada continue traditions of referring to the Holiday as "April Fish" and pranking people with paper fish.

In the United States, festivities last all day and often involve attempting to fool unsuspecting people with absurd and unbelievable stories through fake news items and social media.

Britain and English-speaking portions of Canada share similar customs, but only take part in pranks on the morning of April 1 -- but jokes are no longer acceptable past noon. Similar limits also exist in Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, where media outlets traditionally post only a single false news story.

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In Ireland, the holiday involves passing around an "important letter" that reads "send the fool further," to various people throughout the day.

The holiday became a two-day event when it spread to Scotland in the 18th century. The first day begins with a tradition known as "hunting the gowk" -- a word for cuckoo bird -- in which people are sent on false errands.

The second day, known as Tailie Day, involves pranks centered around pinning fake tails or "kick me" signs to people's backsides.

Contemporary cons

April Fools' Day jokes have evolved in contemporary times. In the centuries since the tradition's conception, pranks have escalated to a global scale, spurred by the growing reach of new media.

The British Broadcasting Company fooled viewers in 1957 by reporting farmers in Switzerland set a record spaghetti crop -- including even footage of them harvesting noodles from trees. More than 50 years later, in 2008, the BBC published a video clip of flying penguins for a bogus series on the "Miracles of Evolution."

In 1985, Sports Illustrated published a prank story about a rookie baseball pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball nearly 170 mph. The story featured a number of bizarre details about the fictional ace, including that he carried a french horn at all times and wore one hiking boot while pitching.

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As part of a 1996 advertising campaign, Taco Bell took out full-page newspaper ads saying it purchased the the Liberty Bell and would rename it the "Taco Liberty Bell." The company also disclosed -- truthfully -- that it had also made a $50,000 donation to help preserve the historical landmark.

Tech giant Google has been at the forefront of more recent April Fools' Day pranks, often implementing games and other gag features. It announced in 2013 its video site YouTube would no longer accept new videos -- joking the site would choose the best viral home video on the Internet, and would return online in 2023.

Three years later, the company added a phony (but functional) "Mic Drop" feature to Gmail that allowed users to close an email thread by sending an animated image of a Minion -- the small, yellow, animated characters that first appeared in the Despicable Me films -- dropping a microphone, modern slang for, "I'm done."

Google ultimately wound up removing the feature early in the day and issuing an apology after a number Gmail users who'd accidentally clicked the button found their email threads closed prematurely.

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In 2017, Google allowed users to play the classic video game Ms. Pac-Man on Google Maps. This year, Google's April Fools' gag is a game called "Sssnakes on a map."

"Google Maps shows you how to get around on foot, car, train and bicycle, and now, you can ssslither to your destination too," it reads. "Starting today, you can play a twist on the snake game in different locations across the world -- including Cairo, London, San Francisco, São Paulo, Sydney and Tokyo -- right from Google Maps. To start playing, simply open the Google Maps app, tap on the menu icon on the top left corner, then select 'Play Snake' to get your daily dose of 90s nostalgia (boy bands, fanny packs and slap bracelets not included)."

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