News Column

April Fools: Harmless Pranks and a Bit of History

Mar 31 2013 10:00PM

Brooke VanCleave, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

The history behind April Fools' Day, sometimes called All Fools' Day, is a bit dodgy.

Some scholars believe the holiday is a celebration of the change of seasons. Others attribute it to a change in the calendar centuries ago. Still others claim the holiday was first referenced in Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."

No matter how it began, people have enjoyed this annual day of tricks and practical jokes for generations. As long sufferers of their children's pranks, parents sometimes cringe when April 1 rolls around each year. But instead of dreading it, what if parents join in on the fun?

Julie Winterbottom is the author of "Pranklopedia: the Funniest, Grossest, Craziest, Not-Mean Pranks on the Planet!" She thinks getting into the spirit of April Fools' Day is a great way for parents to bond with their kids.

"I think it's really wonderful for kids to realize that their parents can be sneaky and funny and playful. ... It can be a wonderful shock to a kid to see that side of their parents," Ms. Winterbottom says.

She also mentions that many families today are under a lot of pressure from school, work or other difficulties, so playing practical jokes on one another can be a great way to relax and release some tension.

On the blog Lady Create-A-Lot, the blogger shares her love of April Fools' Day by compiling a list of more than 30 pranks she loves playing on her husband and children. Some of them are classics, while others are unique hoaxes you might not have heard of before.

Put drops of food coloring or oral numbing gel at the base of someone's toothbrush before they get ready in the morning.

Paint a bar of soap with clear fingernail polish and let it dry so that it won't lather up, then put it back in the shower or by the sink.

Pile up confetti on fan blades so that it rains down when someone turns the fan on.

Run a line of thread through every pair of underwear in the victim's drawer. When they grab one in the morning, they'll end up pulling everything out of the drawer.

Find more pranks like these at

One of Ms. Winterbottom's favorite pranks from her book is mixing gelatin into orange juice and letting it firm up overnight, then serving it to a family member at breakfast. She also includes pages of cut-out pranks in the back of the book, like a sheet of fake math homework with impossible-to-solve problems. Kids can trick their parents by asking for help with their "homework," then watch as the parents struggle to figure it out.

Local readers also share some of the best tricks they've ever pulled.

"Two years ago I told my sixth-grade class that they were going to update the Google Earth pictures that day (a Friday) around noon. I even picked them up early from lunch and took them out to the football field where they laid on the ground for about 20 minutes. I didn't tell them until Monday it was April Fools'! It was their favorite picture of the year!" Darbie Valenti, a teacher at King City Elementary School, writes in an e-mail.

"I once told my mother that David Cassidy passed away. She's a child of the '70s, so as you can imagine, she was completely crushed ... until she found out I was a big liar," St. Joseph resident Maggie McDowell says.

Sometimes practical jokes can hurt others if the joke goes too far. Telling a loved one you've been in an accident or have a major illness will cause more grief and worry than is necessary. Playing a prank that has the capability to seriously injure someone is just as bad.

"I think pranks can just be so much fun, they can make both parties laugh, but then they can sort of turn when they go overboard. I think that's a concept kids can understand. ... It gives them a chance to have some empathy," Ms. Winterbottom says.

Those who are fearful of practical jokes can take comfort in the fact that April Fools' Day only comes around once a year. However, Ms. Winterbottom says pranks are fun to pull all year long. Just remember the saying: If you can't beat them, join them!

Source: (c)2013 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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