Thursday, April 1, 2010

Of April Fools, April Fish, Taily Day and Other Tales of April 1

For us, it's April Fool; In France (below), it's April Fish.^

(The following essay--by me, of course--originally aired on WVTF-Public Radio about 10 years ago.)

I once had a girlfriend whose birthday was April 1 and it never occurred to me that there was any significance to that until I got a note from her about a week after she split. She’d taken all my Johnny Rivers albums, my Maxfield Parrish oil on velvet print, my Calphalon Commercial Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Everyday Pan, my Del Rice Rawlings 241 catchers mitt and my orange University of Tennessee No. 11 football jersey.

The note said, “April Fool. Jerk.” That incident, of course, sparked a new and intense interest in the origin and lore of this interestingly American holiday that was first observed somewhere else; say France in the 16th Century.

In 1562, Pope Gregory’s introduced a new calendar for the Christian world – known forever after as the Gregorian Calendar – but there were some who didn’t have TVs and didn’t get the word. They continued to celebrate the New Year April 1 and, of course, that led to people playing tricks on these April Fools.

In France today, thanks to the evolutionary process, kids tape a paper fish to their friends’ backs and yell “Poisson d’Avril!” or "April Fish" and that results in a chocolate fish for the trickster.

In India, April Fool’s day is the Huli Festival, wherein people smear each other with colors. In Scotland it’s Taily Day and the central focus is spoofs involving people’s butts. In England, kids play jokes only in the morning of April 1. In Portugal, the equivalent of April Fool’s day comes the Sunday and Monday before Lent when people throw flour on each other. In the Orkney Islands, April Fool’s is April 2.

Oh, the creativity of our international neighbors. Mark Twain famously said that “The first Day of April is the day we remember what we were the other 364 days of the year.” That would be fools, which is exactly what listeners felt like in 1980 when they discovered that the BBC report that Big Ben was going digital was a prank.

Or those readers who believed the Esquire April 2000 story about a company giving free cars to those who agreed to drive them with advertising signs pasted on the sides.

Or listeners to All Things Considered in 1994 who believed that Pepsi was sponsoring an ear-tattoo contest, awarding a lifetime 10 percent discount on Pepsi products to those who’d wear the tattooed brand.

Or those foolish enough to believe that the staid, conservative, old school Augusta National Golf Course – home of the Master’s – was going to open its membership to the public. The National is not even open to women and has only in recent years opened to Jews and African Americans … in very small numbers.

And how ‘bout the April 1985 Sports Illustrated story about a rookie pitcher who threw a ball 168 miles per hour, or about 65 miles per hour faster than anybody had ever done it before?

Or the 1957 British TV show “Panorama’s” story on eliminating the Spaghetti weevil in Switzerland before it killed the spaghetti crop.

Of course there’s the joke that may have gone a bit too far for some of us: NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” program announced in 1992 that Richard Nixon was running for president again, saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Scared hell out of me.

For those looking for a bit of hope, consider this: “If it thunders on All Fool’s Day, Expect good crops of corn and hay.”

And if you see my old girlfriend, tell her there’s a big market for that Del Rice catcher’s mitt. Saw one going for $350 grand on E-Bay last week. Then wait a second, until the shrieking stops and smile. Tell her that’s an “April Fool” greeting from an old April Fool.

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