In many countries around the world, April Fools’ Day is celebrated on April 1 every year. Although not a public holiday anywhere, observance of the day is widespread, and even in countries where the tradition is not recognized, it is difficult to avoid. Sophisticated practical jokes and spoof news stories are now carried around the world on the internet leading to confusion in those not familiar with the traditions of April Fool’s Day.
The roots of April Fools’ Day lie in the Roman festival of Hilaria (held on March 25), and the Medieval Festival of Fools (held on December 28), still a day on which pranks are played in Spanish-speaking countries. In the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European towns. In some areas of France, New Year’s was a week-long holiday ending on April 1. Many scholars suggest that April Fools originated because those who celebrated on January 1 made fun of those who celebrated on other dates.
The day is marked by the commission of good-humored or otherwise jokes, hoaxes, and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, work associates, etc. In some countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Australia, Cyprus, and South Africa, the tradition is that the jokes only last until noon, but with globalization, this is falling by the wayside, and increasingly jokes have been timed to maximize the effect, and have taken place first thing in the morning.
Among the most famous April Fools jokes over the years have been “Decimal time”, an announcement that the time system will be changed to one in which units of time are based on powers of 10. In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to “reduce the country’s debt” and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, saying that people could get a Whopper for left-handed people whose condiments were designed to drip out of the right side. Not only did customers order the new burgers, but some specifically requested the “old”, right-handed burger.