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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!

By Compiled from wire services, websites by Jessica Worful / April 1, 2008

Scott Wallace - staff

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Why do we have April Fools' Day?

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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

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: