The origin of April Fools’ Day is murky and there are several theories about when and why it all began. The most commonly accepted theory dates back to 1582 when France and other European countries switched from the Julian Calendar — which celebrated the new year around the beginning of April — to the Gregorian Calendar — which sets New Year’s Day as January 1.
Many disagreed with shifting the date of the new year, and Protestants were leery of adopting the Gregorian Calendar, which was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, because they thought it was a devious plot by the Catholic Church. Still others, particularly those in rural communities, did not receive the news of the change. Those who continued to celebrate the new year according to the Julian Calendar were ridiculed as April Fools and became the butt of numerous pranks.
Today the pranks range from the simple “Kick me” sign slapped on the back of an unsuspecting sap to elaborate schemes that fool tens of thousands of people. The Museum of Hoaxes has established its Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time. Among my favorite:
- Burger King introduces a Left-Handed Whopper – In 1998, the burger chain took out a full page ad in USA Today to announce it had rotated the condiments on its Whoppers 180 degrees, thereby redistributing the weight of the burger so that the condiments and toppings would spill out of the left side of the burger, not the right. Thousands of people requested the left-handed Whopper, and many more asked for the old right-handed Whopper.
- Alabama changes the value of Pi – The Alabama state legislature is a never-ending source of hilarity, so in the April 1998 issue of New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter, it was reported that ‘Bama politicians had changed the value of Pi from 3.14159 to the Biblical value of 3.0. The spoof was a parody of attempts by the legislature in Alabama and many other states to ban the teaching of evolution.
- The Taco Liberty Bell – In 1996, Taco Bell bought full page ads in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and USA Today announcing the fast food chain had purchased the Liberty Bell in an effort to help reduce the national debt and would be renaming the cherished American symbol to the “Taco Liberty Bell.” Thousands were outraged by the ad, not realizing it was a joke. The spoof gained a hint of credibility when White House Spokesman Mike McCurry joked to reporters that Ford Motor Co. was following Taco Bell’s lead by paying to refurbish the Lincoln Memorial and eventually renaming it the “Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”
- The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest – In 1957, the BBC broadcast a segment supposedly showing Swiss peasants harvesting strands of spaghetti from trees. The BBC was overwhelmed with calls from viewers wanting to know how to grow a spaghetti tree. The original broadcast is below.
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