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OPINION: Spaghetti trees and funny pranks: exploring April Fools’

Illustration by Mia Morino.

April Fools’ Day – hated by some, loved by others.

But does anybody know the actual history behind this holiday? I want to delve into its origins and explore one of the most iconic pranks in history.

While everyone’s familiar with classics like the cellophane-wrapped toilet or the switched salt and pepper, few have heard of the legendary spaghetti trees hoax, a testament to the enduring creativity of April Fools’ pranks throughout history.

The exact origin of April Fools’ Day remains a mystery, with no single theory confirmed. Though we can track the customs of the day back to Renaissance Europe, it’s likely the tradition started long before then. 

For example, one hypothesis suggests that April Fools’ Day traces back to the 16th century when France transitioned from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. This switch, marked by confusion and differing perceptions of the new year’s start, may have led to the emergence of April Fool’s pranks targeting those slow to adapt to the calendar change. 

Speculation also arises regarding the timing of April Fool’s Day, with some suggesting a link to the vernal equinox around March 21st. It’s posited that the unpredictable weather during this period could have inspired the tradition of playing pranks, as people might be fooled by sudden changes in the climate.

Even though the origins of April Fools’ Day aren’t crystal clear and date back to ancient times, the tradition lives on today. It’s all about playing funny tricks or pranks on people, usually ending with a shout of “April Fools!” to let them know it’s all in good fun.

However, sometimes April Fools’ Day pranks can get out of hand.

For example, on April 1, 1992, someone pretending to be Richard Nixon said on NPR that he would run for president again, and he added, “I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Even though it was clearly April Fools’ Day, many people believed it was real, leading to a lot of anger and plans for protests.

Other times, however, April Fools’ pranks are just downright hilarious. Take, for instance, what happened in 1998 when Burger King announced on April 1st that they would introduce a “left-handed Whopper,” specially crafted for left-handed individuals by rotating all ingredients by 180 degrees. Funnily enough, many customers went into the stores and requested the Left-Handed Whopper. Moreover, as stated in the press release, numerous customers also expressed interest in a “right-handed” version of the burger!

However, today I want to shine a light on what I personally consider the funniest April Fools’ joke in history, one that’s actually not as widely known. And no, it is not a new one, it actually dates back to 1957.

The hoax was orchestrated by the BBC, who aired a mock documentary showing Swiss farmers harvesting spaghetti from trees. To their surprise, viewers took the joke seriously, leading to genuine requests for spaghetti tree seeds.

It’s important to note that during that time, spaghetti was still considered a relatively exotic import in England, with limited knowledge about its origins and cultivation. This lack of familiarity likely contributed to the effectiveness of the BBC’s prank, as audiences were less informed about the realities of spaghetti production.

Richard Dimbleby, a highly esteemed broadcaster known for his integrity and journalistic prowess, presented the broadcast. In his narration, Dimbleby described Swiss women delicately harvesting strands of spaghetti from trees and methodically drying them in the sun. He went on to explain that through meticulous breeding and farming techniques, all spaghetti strands miraculously grew uniformly to the same length.

Ultimately, BBC faced criticism for including a prank segment in a serious news program.

However, Wheeler, the scriptwriter, stated in a 2004 interview with the BBC that he thinks “it was a good idea for people to be aware they couldn’t believe everything they saw on the television and that they ought to adopt a slightly critical attitude to it.”

While the spread of fake news in today’s digital age poses serious risks, I believe that some April Fools’ jokes, like the BBC’s spaghetti tree hoax, can be harmless and amusing.

This particular prank, with its whimsical portrayal of spaghetti harvesting, showcased the power of satire to entertain audiences.

However, it also serves as a reminder of the importance of critical thinking and media literacy in discerning fact from fiction. In a world inundated with misinformation, we must tread carefully, but that shouldn’t overshadow the joy that harmless pranks can bring on April Fools’ Day.

So, while spaghetti may not grow on trees, a good laugh can certainly blossom from a well-executed prank, reminding us that sometimes the best humor lies in the unexpected.

Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not take the advice the BBC operators were instructed to give to callers?

“Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and cross your fingers.”

After all, sometimes a little whimsy can spice up even the most ordinary of meals.

Lara Kilchenmann is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected]

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