No joke! The truth behind April Fools’

April Fools’ Day, a time for pulling harmless pranks on gullible victims, is universally popular.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the history behind April Fools’ Day is a little gray, although many people agree the tradition began in 1582 when France switched to the Gregorian calendar and moved New Year’s Day from March 25 back to Jan. 1. Prior to this change, the New Year’s celebration had lasted a full week, from March 25 to April 1. Those who were unaware of the change were called April fools.

In France, the tradition is for children to secretly stick paper fishes on the backs of victims and shout “Poisson d’Avril!” (“April Fish!”). Scots call the holiday “Huntigowk Day” and send people to “hunt the gowk another mile”—a wild goose chase. Worldwide, people seem to dream up mischief on April 1.

In New York City, there has been an April Fools’ Day Parade on Fifth Avenue every year since 1986. Media hoaxer Joey Skaggs sends out press releases detailing each year’s theme, and a bevy of camera crews and spectators arrive on the scene to secure a spot. Of course, there’s no parade.

In celebration of the jests and jesters everywhere, The 2007 Old Farmer’s Almanac reports on some of the most famous pranks played over the years. Here are a few:

Cave of the Treasures—In the mid-1800s, an April Fools’ Day article in the Boston Post reported that workmen removing trees from the Boston Common had uncovered a hidden trapdoor leading to a cave filled with treasure. Treasure seekers flocked to the Common, but, alas, no door was found.

See the Spaghetti Grow—In 1957, the BCC aired a newsreel explaining how the mild winter had produced a higher-than-normal harvest for Swiss spaghetti farmers. Swiss women were shown plucking stands of pasta from trees, while a well-known broadcaster noted that the disappearance of the “spaghetti weevil” had also boosted growth. The broadcaster noted that years of careful cultivation had allowed the spaghetti to grow to a uniform length. Viewers were so intrigued that they called the BBC and asked where they might buy their own spaghetti bushes.

Internet Spring Cleaning—A flurry of e-mails warned that the Internet would be out of service for cleaning for 24 hours between March 31 and April 2, 1997. Users were advised to disconnect all devices. This was an updated version of an old phone joke, in which customers were instructed to place bags over phone receivers to catch dust blown out during phone line cleaning.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is one of several publications published by Yankee Publishing of Dublin, N.H. Folks who can’t find The 2007 Old Farmer’s Almanac where books and magazines are sold can order individual copies or subscriptions at or by calling 800-223-3166.

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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