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April Fool's Day: 1 April

To explore the origins of April Fool’s Day and discuss how all pranks should be harmless.

by Jude Scrutton

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4

Aims

To explore the origins of April Fool’s Day and discuss how all pranks should be harmless.

Preparation and materials

  • Each student will need to bring a pen or pencil to the assembly.
  • A worksheet for each student with the instructions (a)–(f) given in step 1 below.
  • Examples of pranks in step 6 can be substituted by others. I used the following website for these: http://museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/aprilfool/
  • Please read the instructions in step 1 carefully before taking this assembly!

Assembly

  1. Ask the students to follow the instructions on the worksheet.

    (a) Read everything before you do anything.
    (b) Write your name in the upper right-hand corner of the paper.
    (c) Draw two squares in the lower left-hand corner.
    (d) Place an X in one square and an O in the other.
    (e) Write your tutor group under your name.
    (f) Draw one large circle in the centre of your paper.
    (g) Divide the circle exactly by drawing a line through it.
    (h) Sign your name at the bottom of the circle.
    (i) Write your birthday under your signature.
    (j) Now that you have finished reading everything, do only as directed in the first sentence.
  2. Students should catch on that this is an April Fool’s task.
  3. Ask students if they are aware of the history of April Fool’s Day, and why we play pranks on this day.
  4. No one really knows, but it is commonly believed to have started in France in 1582. Before that year, the New Year was celebrated for eight days from 25 March and ending on 1 April. Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world, and the New Year fell on 1 January. News spread slowly in those days. Some didn't hear of the change; some chose to ignore it; and some merely forgot. They continued to celebrate New Year on 1 April  and were considered fools.
  5. Tricks were played on them: they were sent on 'fool's errands', and people made them believe that something false was true. Today the day is commemorated in many parts of the world with practical jokes.
  6. Discuss some of the pranks played on people by the media:

    1957: The respected BBC TV current-affairs programme Panorama announced that, thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss workers pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, ‘Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.’ (You may need to remind your students that few people in this country ate spaghetti at this time.)

    1962: In 1962 there was only one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the News to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display colour reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen. Stensson proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Regular colour broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on 1 April 1970.

    1998: Burger King published a full-page advertisement in the  newspaper USA Today, announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a ‘Left-handed Whopper’, specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new Whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new burger. Simultaneously, according to the press release, ‘many others requested their own “right handed” version’.

    1976: The British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9.47 a.m. a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur, which listeners could experience in their very own homes. The planet Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment that this planetary alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9.47 a.m. arrived, BBC 2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman even reported that she and her 11 friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room.

    Recently, the London DJ Chris Tarrant used a Saturday-morning show to dupe hundreds of people into believing it was Friday. Hundreds mistakenly began their journey to work.
  7. Ask students what changes mass media has made to April Fool’s Day.

    Explain the harmless nature of these pranks . . .  Discuss that it can be a fun day so long the prankster and victim can laugh after the prank.

Time for reflection

The Fool's Prayer

(by Edward Rowland Sill)

THE royal feast was done; the King
     Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: ‘Sir Fool,
     Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!’
The jester doffed his cap and bells,
     And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
     Behind the painted grin he wore.
He bowed his head, and bent his knee
     Upon the monarch's silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: ‘O Lord,
     Be merciful to me, a fool!
No pity, Lord, could change the heart
     From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin; but Lord,
     Be merciful to me, a fool!
'Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
     Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
'Tis by our follies that so long
     We hold the earth from heaven away.
These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
     Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
     Among the heart-strings of a friend.
‘The ill-timed truth we might have kept —
     Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say —
     Who knows how grandly it had rung?
Our faults no tenderness should ask,
     The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders-oh, in shame
     Before the eyes of heaven we fall.
Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
     Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
     Be merciful to me, a fool!’
The room was hushed; in silence rose
     The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
      ‘Be merciful to me, a fool!’

Music

‘Fools Gold’ by Stone Roses, widely available to download.

Publication date: April 2011   (Vol.13 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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