Illustration by Sarameeya Aree
(“What, you mean a school of plastic-eating sea unicorns didn’t solve our planet’s garbage issue? Boo!”) I know. I wish that were true, too. But isn’t it fun to imagine?
April Fools’ Day is a day for hoaxes, pranks and practical jokes. Its origins are tied to the Council of Trent, which switched France from the Julian calendar—where the new year began in April—to the Gregorian calendar, which most of us still observe. People who failed to get the memo and still celebrated New Year at the wrong time were teased. Like a lot of medieval shit, it’s also speculated that it could be a vestige of the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, which “involved people dressing up in disguises and mocking fellow citizens and even magistrates.”
Even magistrates? Damn. No one is safe.
Today, April 1, is a day when you have to question everything. Headlines, advertisements and especially social media announcements. Is someone engaged? Engaged in COMBAT, maybe. Are they “expecting”? Expecting you to look like a DUMMY! Check your back for a “kick me” sign or, if you’re in France, a paper fish—poisson d’avril!—and for the love of God, make sure someone didn’t put cling film over your toilet bowl before you use it in the morning, because it’s open season for pranks.
April Fools’ Day can be fun—or wildly anxiety-inducing. I prefer the fun version: like when my brother-in-law put googly eyes on every bottle of condiments in their refrigerator one year. No one is thinking, “my GOD, did the ketchup suddenly become sentient!?” It’s just a silly surprise that hopefully gets the pranked person to crack a smile. It’s why I wanted to devise a Lisa Frank acid-trip vision of a sustainability story for New Thinking today. I didn’t want our prank to be a fake story that would be upsetting. I also didn’t want it to be realistic enough that it was disappointing when it wasn’t true—though we can all agree magical sea creatures would be a badass solution to microplastics.
(As an aside… wouldn’t it be incredible if all the Russian bot-proliferated fake news of all the past years were suddenly all updated: “April Fools!” And then we returned to fact-checked journalism? That would be dreamy.)
To me, the other version of April Fools’ pranks kinda sucks. A little teasing—where you can laugh at yourself when you’re the prankee—can be fun. But a lot of practical jokes just violate people’s trust and make them feel like suckers. I hate when a prank centers on fooling people into believing something that would be nice—like a fake marriage announcement.
“Oh, you got married?! Congratulations!”
“April Fools! You look like an idiot for caring about my lifelong happiness!”
My husband once unintentionally pranked my mother- and sister-in-law in this way. He asked everyone to sit down and said “we” had some important news to share… and then told everyone how we got the dog a new bow tie. Of course, this was after everyone had assumed he was announcing a pregnancy. Which somehow he didn’t realize they would think. (Men.)
Even worse is when a prank is about some kind of grave news. I cannot stand when someone pretends they’ve got some horrible illness as a joke. It. Is. Not. Funny. There’s enough bad news and tragedy in the world. We don’t need to create additional stress via your lack of tact.
I am a little on the fence about physical pranks. Tying shoelaces together and that sort of thing can feel meanspirited, too. But if everyone is in on it—and exacts revenge frequently—these can become part of a love language. I know siblings who have epic, ongoing prank-offs. One of my friends and his brother have a never-ending competition to see how they can flip each other off creatively, which you can’t resist getting in on when you’re in their company.
Pranks are absolutely one of my husband’s love languages—chalk it up to his older-brother energy. He will waste huge amounts of paper and tape on obnoxiously wrapping his sister’s Christmas gift just to mess with her. This extends to his friendships, too. The best man at our wedding told a story about how he once drew dicks on my husband’s face with marker—including behind his ear, which he didn’t see before going to work. As revenge, my husband later drew a second set of eyes on his best man’s eyelids with a Sharpie and taped down his limbs at a future passed-out moment. What would the best man talk about in wedding speeches if practical jokes didn’t exist?
If done right, April Fools’ gives us a chance to laugh at ourselves, enjoy a subverted expectation and remember not to take life too seriously. So get out there and get to teasing. As long as it’s in good fun. We could all use a bit of a laugh.