April Fool’s Day has a long and glorious history that deserves to be celebrated by fools, would-be-fools, and soon-to-be fools, which pretty much takes care of the rest of us.
The origin of the celebration dates back at least to the Canterbury’s Tales (1392), but the play on words, in old English, is lost in translation.
One can easily imagine medieval practical jokes – probably reminiscent of Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie. But the true glory of the April 1st practical joke only reached its pinnacle with the advent of modern communications.
The year of my birth (1957) featured one of the most famous April Fool’s jokes. The irony is not lost on me.
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) showed a television program with people in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti. It was a normal enough appearing farm with 3-foot long spaghetti noodles hanging from the trees, and farm workers on ladders busily harvesting them.
In usual dry British wit, the narrator noted the harvest was particularly good this year due to the absence of the spaghetti weevil. The segment talked up the taste of home-grown spaghetti so much that people called the BBC asking how to grow their own.
“Put a sprig of spaghetti in a can of tomato sauce and wait,” they were told. More than a few gullible souls did just that.
The Brits were at it again about 20 years later, coming up with another doozy, this time on BBC radio. An interview with a famous astronomer Patrick Moore was broadcast.
Moore was someone of Carl Sagan’s stature, who explained in detail how the planet Pluto would be passing behind the earth, causing a gravitational alignment that would temporarily nullify the earth’s gravity at exactly 9:47 a.m.
Moore said if anyone jumped into the air at that moment, they would feel a strange floating sensation. At exactly 9:47 that morning, Moore shouted on the airwaves – “Jump!” And most of Great Britain did. And the surprising thing was many people reported feeling that strange floating sensation at the peak of their jump!
In the U.S., our pranks are more of the knock-knock variety than shaggy dog story. One of our most famous was rather recent. In 1998, Burger King ran a full-page ad in USA Today, announcing a new item on the menu, the left-handed Whopper.
Burger King did this for the 32 million southpaws in the nation, and claimed to have rotated all condiments 180 degrees so they would drip out of the other side of the burger. Many people tried to order the left-handed burger. One wonders how many got them?
Another fast food mischievous prank had Taco Bell claiming to have purchased the famed Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and renaming it the Taco Bell Liberty Bell.
There was public outrage, followed closely by embarrassment – and finally laughter.
Laughter is definitely healthy, a balm for much of what ails us. A hearty laugh gives the body a little more oxygen, drops the blood pressure, and feels like rinsing our brains off with cool clear water.
Laughter is stronger than Prozac and works instantly. If you do nothing else this April Fool’s Day, try to laugh a little and maybe help a few of the hopeless Type As in our lives, who could definitely benefit from a good belly laugh.
Happy Fool’s Day.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.