As innate as happiness, pride, and anger are in everyone, so, too, is the spirit of japery. We grow up pulling pranks on friends and family because we know they will forgive us for our silliness, and it keeps relationships fresh, especially in a time when routine dominates our lives. So it is interesting to note that there is a day devoted to jokery that is nearly universal all over the world: April 1st.
How is it that this solitary day has such an infamous reputation? What is its origin and how can be pull pranks using good old fashioned gags and humorous costumes? The answer is actually impossible to determine because there are so many different examples in history that may refer to it.
The earliest known origin comes from a festival known as Hilaria (Latin for Hilarious), which was celebrated by the Romans. Hilaria was celebrated during the vernal equinox in honor of Cybele, mother of gods. The laughter associated with the festival is related to the shift in seasons, from winter to spring. Considering everyone’s opinion on winter, who could blame the Romans? They didn’t have the luxury of winter jackets and oil heating.
Another origin would be the Feast of Fools, a medieval festival celebrated in several European countries for centuries. This holiday was known for its extravagance and role reversal. The upper classes gave brief power to individuals in the serving classes, making this a mocking gesture that served the purpose of condoning the behavior of “laughing at oneself.”
It’s very likely that the elaborate pranks pulled in modern day are influenced by these acts from the medieval period. Another well documented incident is the “Washing The Lions” incident, a prank played on unsuspecting victims during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The first ever recorded incident was on April 1st 1698, reported by the Dawks’s News-Letter. People were sent up into the Tower of London to witness the annual lion-washing ceremony, an act that seemed just as silly then as it does today. This prank was held every year on the same day for the next 200 some-odd years.
Early Illustration circa 1770 of kids tying a kite to an old man as an April Fools prank
A modern interpretation of April Fool’s Day comes to us from the BBC and their reporting of “spaghetti trees” in 1957. The channel’s current-affairs program, Panorama, reported to British citizens a story showing a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti. At the time spaghetti was a rare in the UK, so many people sent in letters to the BBC asking how they may grow their own trees.
It is likely that the modern holiday was born out of a collective influence by all these events and countless others. Celebrating the day is entirely subjective, but here are a few suggestions for making your next office/family prank as unforgettable as the aforementioned events:
1) Create an elaborate memo stating that X-day (whatever weekday April 1st happens to fall on) now requires a casual toga dress code. Send this memo to everyone in the office except for one person. When he or she arrives at the office in regular attire, he or she will be flush with embarrassment and confusion.
2) If you’re a business owner and have an employee who tries too hard to achieve validation, we suggest starting a new Employee of the Month program. Award this employee with a phony plaque and the “Best Employee Honorary Costume.” A jester costume would be the best way to help the employee understand that he or she needs to relax and drop the act of uber-professionalism.
3) Send a coworker to the dry cleaners to pick up an outfit for a job. Let’s say he or she must interview someone important in your stead, and let’s say this job is a great stepping stone in his or her career. The catch is that the outfit you sent him or her to retrieve and with specific instructions to wear happens to be a multi-color spandex suit. Simply say that the client is a gym rat.
4) No matter the woman in your life, you can absolutely fool her with your attempt to take advantage of a great sale. Pick up this suit and explain to her that it is designer and 50% off. Make it known that this is the suit you want to wear to that “thing” that’s so important to her (prom, wedding, gala, etc.). Also, drop the tidbit about it having cost $500. It’s designer, so that’s a good deal.
5) If there’s still some snow on the ground and you are looking to remind someone special that spring is only temporary till the next winter, we believe this yeti outfit will do just the trick. You can hide in waiting and be winter’s fury back for one last pass. Your victim will never forget the day he or her was pelted with snowballs by a yeti.