April fools for kids

The first day of April is fun for kids – a time to play pranks on family and friends. Here's why – and how!

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Why do we have April Fools' Day?

It's tough to trace the history of April Fools' Day, or All Fools' Day, as it was once known, but here are some theories about how the holiday came to be:

A mixed-up calendar

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Many countries today mark New Year's Day on Jan. 1. But centuries ago, different places started the new year on different days. In France, people celebrated the new year around Eastertime in late March or early April.

Then, in the mid-1500s, France switched New Year's Day to Jan. 1. One story goes that some people didn't like this change and others – such as peasants in rural areas – didn't learn about it.

People in the know thought those who still marked the new year during spring were fools. They made fun of the "simple folk" by sending fake invitations to New Year's parties in April.

Turnabout in ancient Rome

Far back in history, there were a number of festivals that focused on fun and foolery. Saturnalia was a topsy-turvy celebration in ancient Rome. During the holiday, social order was reversed. Slaves could pretend they ruled their masters, and an ordinary citizen was chosen to be "king" as long as the parties lasted.

Another Roman holiday was Hilaria, which involved putting on disguises. (And notice how Hilaria sounds like "hilarious," which means very funny.)

Poking fun from ancient India to Europe

Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday in India that continues today during early spring. It's a time when people let loose and have fun.

It's also known as the Festival of Colors, because one of the ways people celebrate is by throwing powdered dye and dyed water on one another until everyone is covered in bright colors.

In northern Europe, the Festival of Lud was a holiday that honored Lud, a Celtic god of humor. It may have been a day on which people poked fun at those in authority.

History just goes to show that people have always loved a little fun. And lots of folks around the world keep up the playful festivities on April Fools' Day.

Famous April Fools' pranks Laundered lions

A popular April Fools' joke in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries was to send unsuspecting people to the Tower of London to see the annual washing of the lions on April 1. The lions would be washed in the tower moat, eager spectators were told. Crowds would gather, only to be disappointed when they found that no such event ever occurred.

Spaghetti trees

The April 1, 1957 edition of the British news program "Panorama," aired a three-minute story about an unusually large spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. The show even broadcast footage of a Swiss family picking the stringy noodles off "spaghetti trees" and laying them out to dry in the sun. Many British viewers were fooled and called in asking how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. You can watch the "news" segment here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/1/newsid_2819000/2819261.stm.

The baseball star who wasn't

In April 1985, Sports Illustrated magazine published an article about Sidd Finch, a talented rookie for the New York Mets. The most amazing thing about him: He'd never played baseball before. Instead, he'd been taught the "art of the pitch" at a Tibetan monastery. The only thing was, Sidd Finch never existed. He was made up by a writer as a prank.

Freedom tacos

On April 1, 1996, the fast-food chain Taco Bell took out full-page ads in several newspapers saying that the company had bought America's historic Liberty Bell to help reduce the national debt. The bell would be renamed the Taco Liberty Bell. People were outraged at the commercialization of such a beloved national symbol. But a few hours later, Taco Bell announced that the ad was a joke and that actually, it was donating $50,000 for the upkeep of the bell.

Burger for lefties

The fast-food high jinks continued in 1998 when Burger King ran an advertisement announcing the new "Left-Handed Whopper," which was just like the regular Whopper, except it was specially designed so that all the ketchup, mayonnaise, and other condiments would only drip out of the right side of the burger. The next day, the company said that the ad had been a hoax. But thousands of customers had already tried to order the Left-Handed Whopper. (Some even asked for a regular "right-handed" Whopper.)

April Fools' fun you can do Meatloaf cupcakes

Ask your mom or dad to help you play an April Fools' prank on your family. Follow this online recipe for surprise cupcakes: http://jas.familyfun.go.com/recipefinder/display?id=50154. They look like the real thing, but are really meatloaf with colored mashed-potato "frosting." Tell your family that just this once, they get dessert before dinner. They'll be shocked when they bite into these morsels, but they'll find them tasty, anyway.

Cracked up

Another food trick to is to get a parent's help to make some hard-boiled eggs one night. Then put the eggs back into the carton and refrigerate. In the morning, ask your other parent – or a big brother or sister – to help you make scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Hand your family member the carton of eggs and watch as he or she tries to crack a hard-boiled egg into the frying pan.

Dinner-time drop

Before dinner, secretly ask all the people in your family – except one – to drop their forks on the floor at the same time. The family member who's not in on the joke will wonder what's going on – until you can't hide your grin.

Bug on the brush

Another quick and easy gag: Put a small raisin in the end of the toothpaste tube and put the cap back on. The next person to brush his teeth will get a "bug" along with his squirt of toothpaste.

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