From Gag gifts to Anonymous Pranks – A History of April Fool’s Day
Some people spend their lives looking forward to and planning their next gag gift — the one thing that brings unexpected laughs to your friend, family, and potential passerbys.. After all, who hasn’t passed along a Rickroll video at some point in their lives?
The question remains though, where did gag gifts, pranks, and other novelty jokes come from in the first place? Who, if anyone played the gag of gags? The OG? Why is there an April Fools’ Day on April 1? Like Dick At Your Door, it’s all a bit of a mystery, but we aren’t one for giving up on a good mystery. The following is what we were able to uncover through our tedious research (googling). A history of pranks and gag gifts. Riveting.
As we mentioned, the origins of pranks are clouded in unknowns. However, according to history.co, scholars believe the tradition dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julien Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar as decreed by the Council of Trent. Those who were slow to adhere to the new calendar became the subject of ridicule and many jokes. They would often become referred to as “poisson d’avril” (or April fish), someone who could be caught and was gullible. Hence the beginning of April Fool’s Day. Is that the end of the story? Mystery solved? Perhaps not.
There are also reports that the prank day’s origins to 1582 after Pope Gregory XIII ordered the adoption of Gregorian calendar which moved New Year’s Day from the end of March to Jan. 1.
Thirdly and finally, there is Professor Joseph Boskin of Boston University.
According to the professor, BU’s public relations office gave Boskin a call, with a question: was it OK to pitch him, a historian and a purveyor of popular culture, as an expert on the history of April Fools’ Day. Not giving the request much thought, he jokingly said yes.
As an expert in Medieval History, Joseph claimed the first historical reference to April Fool’s Day pranks was during the 5th Century by King Kugel. Apparently, the King was known to play pranks and jokes on his royal compatriots. For he was was a jester that become King.
So when someone poked fun at his leadership he made a pretty big deal out of it.
As the story goes, a court jester joked that he could do a better job of ruling the empire than old Constantine. In a show of force, the Emperor let the jester do just that. For one day each year. You guessed it, April Fool’s Day. Amazing! Also, untrue.
An AP reporter asked Boskin about the origins and history of April Fools’ Day. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about the holiday, and I really can’t be of help to you,’” Boskin recalls. “The reporter said, ‘Don’t be so modest.’ When the reporter kept pushing, Boskin says, “I created a story.”
One of Boskin’s closest friends had always loved the Jewish noodle pudding kugel. That popped into his head, and he decided to tell a story about a jester who became king — King Kugel. 11
“Since I was calling New York, where kugel is famous, and it was April Fools’ Day, I figured he would catch on,” Boskin laughs. “Instead, he asked how to spell kugel.” As he was telling the outlandish story, he kept expecting the reporter to wise up to what he was doing, but all he heard was the clatter of a typewriter on the other end of the phone.
When AP published the story, Boskin got calls from the Today Show and other reputable news outlets asking him to go into more detail about the origins of King Kugel.
Back at BU, Boskin used the amusing scenario to show students in his Media and Social Change class how the media can suddenly pick up on a joke, a rumor, an innuendo, or a story and regard it as authentic. No matter what you hear, you must question, Boskin reminded his students.
Unbeknownst to him, the editor of the Daily Free Press was in his class. The next day, the Freep ran the headline, “Professor Fools AP.”
“The AP had a huge conniption when they read this,” Boskin says. “I got an immediate phone call from an editor there, who was furious, saying that I had ruined the career of a young reporter. He said I told a lie. ‘A lie?’ I asked, ‘I was telling an April Fools’ Day story.’
“The AP always, always checks on stories and for some reason this one fell through the cracks,” Boskin says. “It was their fault for not checking the story, and I embarrassed them. But I mean, really — kugel? What reporter from New York doesn’t know what that is?”
Fortunately for everyone, this April Fools’ story has a happy ending. Boskin’s prank did not ruin a young journalist’s career. Unintentionally, it might even have provided a little true-life case study for a wonderful teacher, because that young AP reporter was Fred Bayles, now an associate professor of journalism in the College of Communication.
“Be very, very wary of what someone, particularly someone talking about April Fools’ Day, tells you,” Bayles now advises. “It also illustrates a professor’s responsibility not to screw around with someone’s career — and the integrity of a university.”
Some trace the prank day’s origins to 1582 after Pope Gregory XIII ordered the adoption of Gregorian calendar which moved New Year’s Day from the end of March to Jan. 1.
So there you have it. A history of April Fool’s day. We’ve gone from calendar’s to chocolate dicks. I never said anything about people getting smarter.