One of only a handful of holidays commemorated around the world is, perhaps surprisingly, April Fool’s Day. Every year, on the first day of April, people from every country and all walks of life come together in a tradition of playing pranks on one another—from the small-scale and relatively benign, to larger and (in some views) mean-spirited practical jokes.
But what a lot of people may not realize is that April Fool’s Day has a real, historical tradition behind it. Accounts differ, but the most popular belief is that the holiday came into being shortly after adoption of the Gregorian calendar. People who hadn’t yet adapted to the times, and still lived according to the outdated Julian Calendar, were called April Fools.
While the first of April is usually associated with friends and co-workers playing jokes on one another, many times, throughout the years, larger hoaxes have been put on by organizations. In the 1950s, for instance, a television station announced that Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa had finally collapsed; and in the mid 1990s, in one of the more notorious April Fool’s Day jokes, restaurant chain Taco Bell claimed to have purchased Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. Both occurrences—and countless others like them—prompted scores of panicked phone calls and written letters from members of the public.
April Fool’s Day is by no means the world’s only prank-day holiday, but it has, for perhaps unexplainable reasons, emerged as the most popular one.