What’s not to love about a day that actually gives you permission to pull a prank on your friends and family? Whoever came up with the idea of April Fool’s Day was clearly a genius who has provided entertainment around the world on April 1 for centuries – and maybe ruined a friendship or two along the way!
As with so many holidays, the origins of April Fool’s Day are hard to trace, so we’ll throw out two of the most popular theories, and you can choose the one that sounds the most plausible to you. Then we will look at some classic April Fool’s pranks, as well as some suggestions for where to draw the line when it comes to practical jokes.
Where Did April Fool’s Day Come From?
Theory one1 goes back to 1582 when France officially transitioned from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Under the Julian calendar, the beginning of the new year wasn’t set in stone, despite an attempt to move it to January 1. As the saying goes, old habits die hard, so many people continued to associate the start of the new year with the spring equinox, the day with equal amounts of daylight and darkness across the planet, which falls in late March (it fluctuates a bit each year).
Under the new Gregorian calendar, January 1 was introduced as a hard date to usher in each new year. The theory goes that, in an effort to shame those who continued to celebrate the equinox during the last week of March through April 1, pranks and jokes were played on the “April fools.” Sometimes a paper fish was put on their backs (similar to our “Kick me” signs today) to symbolize an easily caught fish or gullible person for believing in the old calendar nonsense.
Theory two2 links the pranking day to festivals like Hilaria (Latin for “joyful”), which was celebrated in ancient Rome during the spring equinox by those in the Cybele cult. This was a 10-day festival that involved some rather unsavory practices, but the end of the festivities involved people disguising themselves in costumes and mocking fellow citizens and political figures. Some believe this evolved into our April Fool’s day tradition. Believe what you will!
Pranking the Public
April Fool’s Day spread throughout Britain in the 18th century, including a two-day celebration in Scotland where they “hunted the gowk.” Ever been on a “snipe hunt” – searching for imaginary birds – or sent to complete other “fool’s” errands? Thank the Scots. The day eventually grew in popularity to the point that hoaxes were perpetuated by newspapers, radio and tv stations - and on social media. Some classic media pranks have included BBC’s 1957 report of Swiss farmers harvesting noodles with a record spaghetti crop; National Public Radio’s 1992 announcement that Richard Nixon was running for president again; Burger King’s 1998 introduction of its “left-handed Whopper;” and annual Google pranks that hosts of users fall for every year. Many local news outlets also try to pull the wool over their viewers’ eyes on April 1 with various “fake news” stories, though into today’s climate, those jokes have significantly diminished.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of April Fool’s Day
We probably all remember our ultimate April Fool’s “gotcha” moment – whether we got “got” or we got someone else with a prank that was pulled off perfectly. Thankfully, most April Fool’s practical jokes are fun and harmless; others are simply not in good taste; and still others are downright mean (or destructive) and can cause significant harm.
Let’s start with some of the classic pranks that are usually taken in good fun. Good pranks are ones that are eventually owned up to and offer assistance for putting things back in order, if needed.
- Bathroom Pranks
- Put Vaseline or cling wrap on the toilet seat
- Put Jolly Ranchers in the shower head for a colorful and sticky shower
- Write messages on the mirror that appear with shower steam
- Block the flow of shampoo and conditioner by placing plastic wrap over the openings and screwing the lids back on
- Put clear nail polish over the entire bar of soap to keep it from lathering
- Put flour in the blow dryer for a white-hair day
- Put plastic wrap 2/3 of the way up the door into the bathroom overnight and watch your sleepy-eyed roommate get clotheslined
- Fill a room with balloons that must be popped one by one to enter
- Overnight, line the entrance or exit of a dorm room with paper or plastic cups, each filled with a little bit of water, that must be removed to get in/out
- Steal a mattress and hide it in an undisclosed location
- Turn your roommate’s clothes inside out or turn everything around backwards
- Tape multiple confetti poppers on the inside door jamb of your friend’s door, with the string stretched across the door. When they turn the knob to enter – BOOM!
- Switch the socks and underwear in your roommate’s drawers with those of another unsuspecting friend
- Short sheet the beds
- Tape your friend’s alarm clock (or phone/watch) to the ceiling or put it in a hard-to-find place while they are sleeping so they will have to work extra hard to turn it off
- Simply hide and be patient – then scare the living daylights out of someone by popping out of the closet
- Use the remote to turn on closed captioning in another language
- Replace someone’s pillow with appropriately filled balloons to imitate the fluffiness and put the pillowcase back on
- Overnight, connect the outside doorknobs of two doors across the hall from one another by tying a string to them so that neither occupant can get out
- Hide bubble wrap underneath a rug so that it pops when walked on
- Tape a big fake bug to the inside of a lampshade so its silhouette pops when the light is turned on, or put one on the shower floor
- Put sugar in the salt shaker or salt in the sugar bowl
- Fill the inside of Oreos with toothpaste
- Pipe mayonnaise into “cream-filled” donuts
- Pull the old plastic bug in the ice-cube trick, or serve your friend a strawberry “drink” of jello
- Switch food items and containers, like putting uncooked oats in the cereal box or sugar in the flour canister
- Miscellaneous Pranks
- Access your friend’s computer and hit Ctrl+Alt+Down Arrow to flip everything on their PC screen upside down
- Tape a harmonica under your friend’s front bumper so the wind causes it to whistle when they drive
- Place a “Honk to Say Hi” sign on the rear bumper and make your friend wonder why so many people are honking at them as they drive
Now for the Bad
Bad pranks abound and usually fall into the category of “fun for the pranker by not for the pranked.” They are most often in poor taste and can cause hurt feelings or even animosity. So, bad pranks should be weighed carefully. This is not the day to ruin a friendship, make an enemy, get a bad reputation, or ruin someone else’s. If you do opt for a risky practical joke, be sure that you are carrying it out on someone you are confident will take it in stride. Otherwise, the consequences may prove calamitous. Here are a few examples of not-so-funny pranks:
- Putting key fobs or other items in Jello that may destroy the costly items or render them useless
- Telling your partner that you are pregnant when you aren’t
- Sending a fake break-up text or fake marriage proposal
- Having friends share that you died in a car accident (or any other fake news that will cause grief or lead to retaliatory action)
- Sharing something false about a friend or co-worker (even if it’s funny) that becomes a rumor that hurts their reputation
- Bullying someone under the guise of pranking them
And then there are those pranks that cross the line – that shouldn’t be done because they are illegal, violate school policy, destroy property, or can cause harm. Here are just a few examples:
- Doing a flash mob that disrupts business or traffic or causes public panic and disruption
- Using a fake gun to pretend to rob or mug someone
- Painting graffiti on or otherwise defacing someone else’s property
- Putting soap in the town or school fountain
- Calling in a fake bomb threat
- Knocking over mailboxes
- Putting someone in a situation where they can be physically harmed
Happy April Fool’s Day!
Now that you know some of the boundaries, go have some fun on April Fool’s Day! Pull a few pranks and be a good sport when someone pranks you. Just remember to always practice the Golden Rule (if you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you, you probably shouldn’t do it to them) and the Rule of Law. No one wants to be bailed out of jail on April Fool’s Day!