by Sheila Connolly
Yesterday was one of the major holidays in the religious world—Easter. This year, by coincidence, April 1 was also the fixed date of one of the silliest holidays in European and Western communities.
Easter is what is known as a movable feast, which means it has no permanent date. Years ago, when I was studying medieval art (which includes much religious imagery, about which I had to do research), I worked out how its date was once determined, which involves a lot of factors and is impossible for most of us to remember from year to year. Wikipedia boils it down to “the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March.”
So on the one hand we have a significant ecclesiastical holy day, and on the other we have people playing tricks on others and telling silly jokes, in close proximity, on what we call April Fool’s Day.
Years ago I happened to be in France on April 1st. There the day is known as “Poisson d’Avril.” Yes, that means April Fish. I probably wouldn’t have noticed except that I saw people on the street walking around with a paper fish pinned to the back of their shirt, so I asked someone why. I understand that the goal is to pin it on someone without them noticing, and if you succeed, you get to call the victim an April Fish.
Why a fish? Again, one theory is that it is somehow linked the the zodiacal sign Pisces—the fish. (Although that sign falls a bit before April 1.) But I’m not sure anyone knows the origins.
Bottom line: many countries celebrate this day devoted to silliness, under a variety of names, such as Huntigowk Day from Scotland (not much used any more), and that name April Fish gets around to Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of Switzerland and Canada. Isn’t that lovely? We need laughter and humor in the world, and this is a friendly kind.
Does anybody know any other holidays that serve no purpose other than to make us smile?