Friday, April 1, 2011

April 1--April Fools and Spring Follies: Pranksters and Lovers in Full Bloom!

April 1 as a celebration has its origins in celebrations of Spring and of the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. Though the exact lineages are vague, it seems that the celebrations are part of those falling around the time of the Vernal Equinox, and Easter in combination with the spread of the cult of Aphrodite (or the Roman Venus).

Spring weather and renewal engender both joy and romance, and as there is no greater fool than someone in the throws of new love, the pranking and the tokens of affection are not as incongruously associated with the same day as it may at first seem.

The Aphrodite tradition is more common in Europe, where in a number of languages "April Fools' Day" is literally "Fish of April Day". Aphrodite is the goddess of love, sexuality, and fertility, famously rising nude from the sea.

Giving an April Fish to someone as a sign of friendship, affection, love, or more broadly a token of good wishes seems to have arisen from this symbolism, as well as fish being a symbol of fertility.

Flowers, spring branches, and baskets are common symbols of fertility associated with the images of the April Fish.

More broadly, children tag each other with a paper fish stuck on the other's back and a cry of "April Fish Day!", and adults play the usual pranks on each other.

In other countries April Fools' Day is one of pranks, and hoaxes, some of them quite famous. Individuals play tricks on each other, and yell "April Fools'!" for the reveal. Institutions also join in the pranking of the public at large.

My most memorable April Fools' Days are 3.

One was in France, where some undergrads painted the whole student quadrangle with an undersea theme of blue studded with various coloured "poissons d'Avril". It was a fun surprise for the rest of us arriving on campus in the morning of April 1. In retrospect, it was an interesting combination of prank, love notes, and student foolishness as midterm relief.

Another was in Canada, where the official Faculty of Medicine news letter had a special edition--which looked just like all the other editions. However, the content was a send up of everything from subtly farcical research topics to a satire of the Dean's Letter which was simultaneously poking fun at the Dean and satirically analyzing his personality and academic politics. It was the best description of him I ever encountered.

The other was in Morocco, where after a lengthy assessment of who was available when, what official documents would be ready in which notarized translations, which functionaries in what city might be most amenable to exercise their discretion in favour of accepting said documents, and tossing out various days and weeks we had decided the day for our wedding. That was until I realized that the day we picked was April 1. I envisioned a lifetime of pathetic anniversary jokes, and vetoed the day. Back to the calculations we went, this time with a calendar at hand!

*The illustrations here, except for the opening one, and the statue of Aphrodite, are old postcards from Colombes Philaties. They, and others like them, may be sent as virtual postcards to your invitee by email (form provided).

Is April Fools' Day celebrated where you are? How?
What are your most memorable April Fools' Day pranks or April Fools Days?
What mischief have you perpetrated today or other years?
Pranks or love notes, which is your preference?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

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