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main index © 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.