As a general rule, I’m not a fan of pranks, for the simple reason that they are, almost invariably, much more fun for the prankster than the pranked. The pranked person’s enjoyment is, at best, secondary, and at worst, irrelevant. That’s not how I do humor*.
That said, I do appreciate history and all that, so here’s a wee bit about April Fool’s Day:
The custom of setting aside a day for the playing of harmless pranks upon one’s neighbor is recognized everywhere. Some precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria, the Holi festival of India, and the Medieval Feast of Fools.
In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Modern scholars believe that there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Thus the passage originally meant 32 days after March, i.e. 2 May, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “32 March”, i.e. 1 April. In Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.
Pranks are hard to pull off, though, especially in the Internet Age. As Megan Garber says at The Atlantic, “April 2 regrets are, at this point, almost as common as April 1 fools.”
For more fun, “fun,” and “what the hell were they thinking?”, check out “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time.”
UPDATE (04/01/2015): Thanks to Edwin for directing me to this John Oliver video:
A few choice quotes:
“April Fool’s Day is to comedy as St. Patrick’s Day is to Irish culture.”
“Pranks are terrible. Anyone claiming to be excited for April Fool’s Day is probably a sociopath, because what they’re really saying is ‘I cannot wait to hurt the people close to me.'”
“If you want to break your family’s heart, don’t play a mean trick on them. Just ask them for money for another improv class. You can do that any time of year, and you will shatter them.”
* Yes, i got pranked a few times as a kid. What’s your point???