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© Jeff Matthews  entry Apr 2003  

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, way back. We get our word "jovial" from the great god Jove who is said to have been quite a jokester up there on the Big O. Looking to spice up the blandness of omnipotence, so to speak, 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–fiveing. 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, one supposes) and a similar Hindu festival called Holi. Both of these took place on or close to the Vernal 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 first, 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). This stems from the fact that an increase of young fish is noted at this time of year and the young fish are easily "hooked". Or at least that's the story, but I heard it on April Fool's Day, so who knows? Fortunately, April Fool's Day is not much of an Italian custom, much less one particular to Naples. There is a day for playing stupid practical jokes on people; 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. For example, in some places back when people still drove buggies, and April Fool's Day happened to fall on a Sunday, a favorite prank was to skip the service and spend the time hitching horses up to the wrong carriages and then stand around and watch the fun when church let out. And the BBC once broadcast an April Fool's documentary purporting to show, among other things, the spaghetti "harvest" in Italy, including 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 around here.

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