No joke: April Fools’ Day is centuries old
Pranksters have delighted in tricking unsuspecting 'fools' for a lot longer than you might think.
If you fell for an April Fools' Day prank today, you can take consolation in knowing that you're in hundreds of years worth of good company.
The lighthearted holiday dates back to the 16th century and the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Before Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with what’s now known as the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the year began on April 1st. The holiday may have gotten its start from people playing tricks on those who missed the memo and celebrated New Year’s Day on April 1st.
April Fools is celebrated in different ways around the world. It was first popularized in Britain in 1700, when the English began playing practical jokes on each other on this day. It spread from there to Scotland, where the victim of an April Fool’s Day joke is called a "gowk," or cuckoo.
In France, April Fool’s is known as “Le Poisson d’Avril,” or April Fish. French school children will often stick paper fish to one another’s backs, and when the joke is discovered, the recipient is declared an “April Fish.” Some French bakeries also make fish-shaped pastries in honor of the holiday.
One of the earliest April Fool’s Day pranks dates all the way back to 1698, when Londoners were told to go see the annual washing of the lions ceremony at the Tower of London. The ceremony did not exist, but that didn’t stop the nonsensical ceremony from being perpetuated well into the 19th century, primarily to lure in unsuspecting tourists.
In modern times, YouTube and Google have joined in the pranking fun by duping the unsuspecting with video announcements and fake product launches. In 2013, Google launched “Google Nose,” which would let users search for smells within Google’s search functionalities. However, Google has also used the holiday as an opportunity to launch real products, too. On April 1, 2004, Google introduced the first version of Gmail. This was widely believed to be a hoax at the time due to Gmail’s storage capabilities, but it was very much real.
This year's prank fell rather flat, when Gmail users began complaining that the company's lighthearted "Mic drop" gif added to emails was inappropriate.