April Fool’s History

As a child, I attended Catholic school. One of the nuns who taught me said we should never participate in April Fool’s pranks because the Romans started it when they made fun of Jesus on his way to the cross. I took it as true in those days, but recently I thought maybe I should check it out. Did Snopes go back that far?

Sometimes called All Fools Day, the custom is thought to have started in France when the New Year began at the end of March and celebrations lasted until April 1st. Then somebody changed the calendar and January 1st starred as the new year. People who celebrated April 1st were certainly behind the times and foolish. Other people played tricks on them and attached paper fish to their backs without attracting the fool’s notice.

040118 paper fish

This doesn’t explain why the day already had a tradition going on in earlier days. A historian suggested that when Emperor Constantine, amused by jesters saying they could run the empire better than he did, let one fool be king for a day. The jester, named Kugel, decreed a day be set aside for absurdity. The idea caught on and was commemorated every year after that. Psyche! The historian, Joseph Boskin made the whole thing up! Hey, I would have believed him.

040118 constantine

Whatever the origin, there seems to be no connection to the bloody Romans and Jesus Christ. In modern times, I love that many companies take advantage of the moment to let their silly side out. As far back as 1698, people were told of the washing of lions in the “ditch” (moat) at the No Fooling Tower of London. This was a non-event yet it continued to be revived every year. Someone handed out tickets in the mid-nineteenth century to see the “Washing the Lions” at the Tower Zoo in London. No such event ever took place. More recently, the Boston Public Garden posted a sign warning people not to photograph sculptures. Obviously, not everyone fell for it.

Google maps were one of the companies that made ads specific to April Fools’ Day. So cool to see Ms. Pacman gobbling down the streets. Here’s a great list of the top 100 Hoaxes set up for first of April.


To this day, the “Spaghetti Tree Harvest” has split reception, some thinking it was a great joke, others that it was a terrible hoax on the public.

Luckily, I am usually unfooled by these sort of things. One that I will never forget because it hurt so badly to discover the truth, was an article saying the Carolina Parakeet, North America’s only parrot species, had been cloned and revived. How sad to learn it was all hogwash. How much did the people who wrote this up borrow from the Jurassic Park movies and capitalize on our belief in cloning?


I do enjoy the Scribophile annual tease where one year many avatars were replaced with pictures of bees and bee-related stuff popped up all over the site. Last year, we users were waiting for that shoe to drop, checking out all the things that could be hoaxes or jokes. The best joke of all was that there was no joke that year. And we all fell for it.

040118 april fool cancelled

For those who celebrate, Happy Easter. Watch your back for fish signs. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.


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