The earliest written reference to April Fool's Day is in Chauncer's Canterbury Tales in 1392.
The Roman Festival of Hilaria which was held on March 25th and the Festival of Fools held on December 28th are also precursors to April Fool's Day. In Spanish speaking countries pranks are still played on December 28th.
Not So Humble Hoaxes
While many enjoy pranking those closest to them, some pranks have been played on a much larger scale. Right here in New York City, comedian and satirist, Joey Skaggs began his annual April Fool's Day Parade advertisements in 1985. The "parade" is scheduled at 12:00 p.m., beginning at 59th street and Fifth avenue in Manhattan and is said to include floats, banners, bands and a competition for April Fool's Day King and Queen. Skaggs uses the advertisements to parody political events that have taken place throughout the year. As late as 2000, CNN and Fox's WNYW sent camera crews to the location in anticipation of this illustrious event. One would imagine that they must have been feeling quite foolish upon realizing that they had in fact, "been had".
Although the parade is advertised annual, no such parade actually exists and is a quite fitting "event" for April's Fools Day.
On April 1st In 1957, the BBC aired a special on their news show Panorama. The special was titled, The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. Including "footage", a news reporter told viewers that the Swiss spaghetti harvest was unusually plentiful that year and showed peasants pulling spaghetti from trees.
As you might imagine this prompted many callers. Those who called asking how they, too, could grow a spaghetti tree were told to, "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
Also in Britain beginning in 1698, many have been tricked into visiting The Tower of London on April 1st. Tickets were given out with an invitation to the ticket holder and a friend to the annual
"Washing of the Lions".
Needless to say, the lions were not bathing at The Tower of London that day.
Poisson d'avril, literally meaning April's Fish is quite the April Fool's tradition in France, Romandy, and French speaking Canada. Also in Italy, Pesce d'aprile, meaning April's Fish as well, is the tradition where a paper cut out of a fish is tacked to the back of an unsuspecting victim.
To complete the tradition, the prankster is to yell, Poisson d'avril after this fishy folly.
It's All About Timing
For some it's about the scale and skill of the prank. For others, timing is very important.
In many countries, April Fool's Day is not for sleeping in. In Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Australia, Cyprus and South Africa pranks are only acceptable before noon. It is common to become the April Fool with a joke played after hours, "April Fool's Day's past and gone. You're the fool for making one" would be the appropriate response to an afternoon prankster.
However, in many other places you can go right ahead, tack a fish to the back of your loved ones and prank away without any time restraints!