Why Do We Pull Pranks On April Fools’ Day?

The origins of the day are shrouded in mystery…

For the eager prankster, nothing beats the centuries-old tradition of April Fools' Day. But the origins of the day are shrouded in mystery.

The most popular theory is that France changed its calendar in the 1500s so that the New Year would begin in January to match the Roman calendar instead of beginning in late March or early April.

However, word of the change travelled slowly, and many people in rural areas continued to celebrate the New Year in the spring. These country dwellers became known as "April fools," the story goes.

But Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in California, has studied the holiday's origin and says the "theory is completely wrong, because the day that the French celebrated the beginning of the year, legally, was Easter day, so it never really was associated with April first."

"Traditionally it was only a legal start to the year—people in France did actually celebrate [the New Year] on January first for as long as anybody could remember."

Boese believes instead that April Fools' Day simply grew out of age-old European spring festivals of renewal, in which pranks and camouflaging one's identity are common.

Today in France, April Fools' Day is called le poisson d'Avril—"the April fish"—and a classic prank is to stick a paper fish to an unsuspecting passer-by’s back.

Joseph Boskin, a professor at Boston University, has offered his own interpretation of the holiday's roots, saying that the idea came from Roman jesters during the time of Constantine I in the third and fourth centuries A.D.

But his theory, it was later revealed, was an April Fools’ Day prank itself!

According to Marc Abrahams, creator of the Ig Nobel Prizes, traditional April Fools' Day fake news is being “out-absurded” by actual discoveries.

Every year the Ig Nobel Prizes in science, medicine, and technology are awarded for research that "first make people laugh, and then make them think."

In 2010 prizes went to legitimate research that found a new way to collect whale snot using a remote-controlled helicopter, proved that swearing does indeed relieve pain, and revealed that asthma can be treated with roller coaster rides.

"The real stuff is funnier, simply because it is real," said Abrahams.

"In that sense, the things that are real and funny are a superior form of April Fools' joke, because you can tell them and people will think you are making it up."

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