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Fancy a fake out? Hankering to be hoodwinked? Stealing for a spoof? You’re not alone if you can’t recall a single 2020 April Fool’s Day joke. We were in no mood for light-hearted deceit last year, or for laughter of any kind, for that matter. We should thus embrace certain cliches which have staying power because they’ve earned it — time heals and laughter is good for the soul.
The theoretical history of April Fool’s Day dates back to 1582, the year France heeded the edict of the 1563’s Council of Trent and moved to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar. The latter of the two started the new year alongside the spring equinox around April 1. Given social media was not a thing back then, word of the nine-month shift did not spread insta-fast. Those caught out in celebratory mode in late March into April were derided as being behind the times and labeled “April Fools.”
Some of the less hip literally became the butt of jokes, with paper versions of “poisson d’avril,” or April fish that tended to get caught easily, pinned to their backs. In Scotland, where a good party never goes to waste, the tradition stretched into a two-day affair. On the second, coined “Tailie Day,” fake tails or “kick me” signs were tacked onto their backsides.
For several hundred years, the British Isles remained home to some of the best pranks worldwide. In late March 1856, Londoners received a posh invitation printed on the Tower of London stationary, official crimson wax seal and all. Signed “Herbert de Grassen,” a “senior warden” at the Tower, the invite gained admission to “view the annual ceremony of the washing of the lions” that had long since departed in 1835.
Some 120 years on, the duped spectators were replaced by naïve listeners. On April 1, 1976, notorious prankster BBC featured Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore warning that at 9:49 am that morning, a temporary alignment of Jupiter and Pluto would reduce the earth’s gravity, inducing brief levitation. On cue, at 9:48 am, hundreds of eager callers blew up the broadcaster’s phone lines with reports that they’d indeed floated.
The best laid plans can collide with Mother Nature from time to time. In 1989, British billionaire and founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson, delivered a hoax a tad early. As testament to his adoration of the holiday, he had taken off in a hot air balloon fashioned to look like a UFO and land in Hyde Park on April 1st. Assertive winds, however, blew Branson and his co-conspirator Don Cameron, outfitted in silver-clad garb, off course. The devilish duo was thence forced to land in a field in Surrey on March 31st. Police officers dispatched to investigate the presumed hoax instead happened upon what appeared to be a flying saucer. As they neared the lunar-esque liner, a door opened and an alien walked out, scaring the life out of the coppers who scurried away in in fear. Sitting next to the “alien” was one delighted Sir Branson.