April Fish

by Cynthia Wands.

I meant to do some research on a current writing project this evening.

“APRIL FISH”

But no. My sister reminded me that today is April 1st. April Fools Day.

And so, instead of researching my play, I fell into the internet and found out that today is April Fish Day.

Okay I’m exaggerating a little bit.

Actually it’s not April Fish Day. It’s a day where strangers can yell “April Fish” to you on this day. Really.

In France.

This is what happens when you need to write more on your play but you find out about the April Fish Day story.

Some history suggests that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Now the New Year would start on January 1, rather than the last week of March through April 1.

But for those poor dullards who failed to recognize that the start of the new year had now moved to January, they now became the butt of jokes and hoaxes on April 1. (Leading to our culture’s shout out to “April Fools”.)

Throughout France (though mostly among children) April Fools’ Day is observed by sneakily sticking a paper fish to someone’s back. These pranks are referred to as “Poisson d’Avril” (April fish), and are said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

When the hapless victim discovers the prank, (meaning that they discover that there is a paper fish on their back) the successful prankster will yell out “Poisson d’Avril”  which means “April Fish!”

I have never had anyone yell out “April Fish” to me. Mostly, I suppose, because I have never been in France on April 1, and therefore the French pranksters couldn’t find me.

(Can I use this in a script somewhere? I will have to file it in my folder called “Holidays” and then never find it again.)

I also found out that April Fools’ Day is linked to a Roman festival called Hilaria, (now there’s a theatrically festival day: Hilaria). This was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. (Again, another holiday note for the archive.)

But one of the best stories about these first days in April come from Scotland. In the 18the century April Fools’ Day spread through Scotland, and the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk” day, in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool).

This is followed on April 2 by Tailie Day, which involves pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on their rear ends.

So on my day of research, where I meant to find very different stories, I found stories about April Fish, Hilaria the Festival Day of Disguises, Hunting The Gowk Day, and lastly, Tailie Day.

I will be checking in mirrors tomorrow to make sure that I don’t have a fake tail pinned to me. Or a paper fish on my back. And then maybe I’ll be able to get back to writing again and not looking up stories on the internet…

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