entry Apr 2003, edited Apr 2021
April Fool's Day
Many glaciations ago, A Neanderthal Person with a corresponding sense of humor pasted prehistory's first "Please Club Me" sign to the back of an unsuspecting fellow missing–link, whom fun–loving passers–by then bludgeoned into gristle, a process that garnered boffo yuks from the cave crowd. "Whew! That silly chap certainly was some April Fool, n'est-ce pas?", they chortled, thus naming a month and starting a glorious tradition much loved by all those who have ever found their shoes nailed to the floor.
Playing tricks on others goes way back. We get our word "jovial" from the great god Jove who was said to be quite a card up there on Olympus. To spice up the blandness of omnipotence, he once confronted Vulcan and pointed to an imaginary spot on this lesser deity's toga, bidding him behold, for, yea, the raiment was soiled with ash from the Heavenly Forge. When the Fire God looked down, the Jovial One brought his index-finger up and flicked him one right in the old schnozzola! Verily, the welkins rangeth all over the placeth with the sound of celestial guffaws and congratulatory high–fiving. Vulcan, on the other hand —a sorehead at best— erupted and destroyed the Minoan civilization on Crete.
There is no evidence that any of this happened on April First, so–called "April Fools' " or "All–Fools' Day". In fact, there is no certainty why any of this takes place on April First, at all. There was the festival of Hilaria in ancient Rome (hot-footing sandals, getting locked in the vomitorium —that sort of thing) and a similar Hindu festival called Holi. Both of these took place on or close to the Autumnal Equinox. What better time to play tricks than a time of the year when Nature herself does the same? A more prosaic explanation is that when various cultures went over to calendars that moved the celebration of the New Year from the spring back to January 1, news traveled so slowly that there were still plenty of people who sent New Year's greetings and gifts at the wrong time of the year and this degenerated into the sending of mock gifts to the "fools" who didn't even know when the year started.
In Italy the April Fool is called "Pesce d'aprile" (April fish). They say there is an increase of young fish at this time of year and that young fish are easily "hooked." But I heard that on April Fool's Day, so who knows? April Fool's Day is not much of an Italian custom, much less one peculiar to Naples. There is a day for playing stupid practical jokes on people, and that is at carnevale —Mardi gras. There is even a stupid bit of doggerel to cover it: "A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale" (At Mardi gras, all tricks are fair). That is when someone might spray you with shaving cream or throw an egg at you. But there don't seem to be any elaborate April Fool's pranks. In some places, back in horse-and-buggy days, when April 1 fell on a Sunday, a good prank was to skip the service and stay outside and hitch horses up to the wrong carriages and then watch the fun when church let out and horses start to trot their way home on their usual paths, taking churchgoers to the wrong homes. The BBC once broadcast an April Fool's documentary on the spaghetti "harvest" in Italy, with footage of peasants happily picking the strands of pasta directly from the trees. I don't recall any such elaborate trickery on April Fool's day here.