No one knows for sure, of course, and the very nature of the day would seem to encourage ridiculous explanations. But the most convincing historical evidence suggests that it began in France (insert joke here) in the time of King Charles IX. For in 1564, Charles proclaimed that New Year’s Day which had been celebrated on March 25, the advent of spring, be moved back to January 1 to align with the more accurate Gregorian calendar. Many Frenchmen, however, resisted the change and others simply forgot about it. So the partying and exchanging of gifts continued throughout that week ending on April 1.
In turn, jokers made fun of those attached to the old New Year’s Day by sending them foolish gifts and invitations to nonexistent parties. And whoever ending up being the target of those jokes was then known as a poisson d’Avril, or “April fish” in recognition of the Zodiac sign for that season, Pisces. Centuries later, even Napolean, when he married his second wife on April 1, 1810, was nicknamed “April Fish.”
And eventually the custom spread across the channel to England, where on April 1, 1698, hundreds of Londoners were tricked into coming to see “the lions washed.” But the best April Fools pranks have probably come from newscasters and newspapers. The BBC, for instance, once tricked the whole nation with their video report of spaghetti growing on trees in Switzerland. And in America, Taco Bell outraged many with their announcement on an April 1 that they had bought the Liberty Bell which would now be known as the “Taco Liberty Bell.” Beginning in 2000, Google also joined in the fun over the years with reports of a plan for human settlement of Mars, a mic-drop button on Gmail, and “Google Translate for Animals.”
This year, however, Google has announced it will resist any hoaxes out of deference to all those fighting the coronavirus pandemic. And though I understand and respect that, in some ways it’s a shame. For in times of disease, laughter is indeed still a good medicine, as Proverbs 17 reminds us. Science tells us, in fact, that when you start to laugh, it not only stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles, increasing the release of endorphins, it can also decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, help your circulation, and even improve your immune system as well as your mood.
With appropriate sensitivity to others, thus, take this April Fools’ Day to laugh a little. Play nice. But do play at least some. It’s how we’ll get through days like these.