The tradition of practical jokes and hoaxes played on April 1 goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians. April fool! The tradition can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages, however.
Illustration by the San Francisco Call, courtesy University of California, Riverside, and the Library of Congress

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    On April 1, people in many Western cultures celebrate April Fools’ Day by playing harmless pranks on each other. The first recorded hint of April Fools’ Day is found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), although many scholars think this is a misreading of the text, and Chaucer actually meant May 2 as the foolish day.
    The European tradition of humor, hoaxes, and practical jokes goes back much further than Chaucer. Ancient Romans celebrated the festivals of Hilaria every March, for instance. These festivals were loosely tied to the vernal equinox—the official start of spring. During one festival of Hilaria, Romans celebrated with games and parties. They also dressed in costume to imitate and even make fun of people in authority.
    The most famous April Fools’ Day prank is probably the BBC’s “Swiss Spaghetti Harvest.” In 1957, the network played a practical joke on its television audience. Journalists reported that Swiss farmers were harvesting spaghetti from trees! Actors playing farmers were filmed removing long, rubbery strings of spaghetti from branches. Thousands of people fell for the prank!
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    authority Noun

    person or organization responsible for making decisions.

    BBC adjective, noun

    (British Broadcasting Corporation) semi-autonomous British public-service broadcaster.

    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    festival Noun

    day or other period of time set to celebrate or commemorate an event, usually with a series of parties, ceremonies, or observances.

    harvest Noun

    the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

    hoax Noun

    object or event meant to deceive or fool observers.

    imitate Verb

    to copy the style of something.

    prank Noun

    mischevious trick or practical joke.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    vernal equinox Noun

    day, usually around March 21, when day and night are of generally equal length. Also called the spring equinox.

    West Noun

    having to do with the developed nations of Europe and North America.