Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Poisson d’Avril, y'all! Strange vintage French postcards

That's April Fool's in Italy, France, and Belgium, where children and adults traditionally tack paper fishes on each other’s back as a trick and shout “April fish!” The cards given out (samples of which appear below) are suitably nutty. The practice probably derived from calendar reform. As told in the France Travel Guide, the story goes that “in 1564 King Charles XIV of France ... moved the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. However, in a time without trains, a reliable post system or the internet [doh!], news often traveled slow and the uneducated, lower class people in rural France were the last to hear of and accept the new calendar. Those who failed to keep up with the change or who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs.”
 
Flowers and dead fish ... just what the doctor ordered! Similar in terms of letting one's hair down was the medieval Feast of Fools, a popular festival held ~January 1 in which a mock bishop or pope was elected, ecclesiastical ritual was parodied, and low and high officials changed places. According to the Brittanica, "Such festivals were probably a Christian adaptation of the pagan festivities of the Saturnalia. By the 13th century these feasts had become a burlesque of Christian morality and worship. In spite of repeated prohibitions and penalties imposed by the Council of Basel in 1431, the feasts did not die out entirely until the 16th century." Above, The Feast of Fools (detail) by Pieter Bruegel;  below, English postcard.
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5 comments:

  1. A Fool for the GleanApril 1, 2014 at 9:24 PM

    Halloween has already been hijacked from the little beggars looking for sweets by Twilight-aged 20-somethings giving parties in outlandish costumes. Perhaps it's time for an April Fools upgrade from the infantile pranks (like Saran Wrapping the toilet seat).
    Those wacky but elegant cards (in French! Tres bien! Always looking for a use for the good silver!) might be the thing to elevate the observance--better that sewing the bottom of their pants legs shut (so time-consuming!)

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    1. Haven't you fixed the glasses yet Gioconda?April 1, 2014 at 9:26 PM

      ..better than sewing...sheesh!

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    2. I had meant to ask if anyone had any memorable (non-sadistic) April Fool's pranks to share!

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  2. I guess back then putting a fish on your back had to be the silliest, clever prank.. now we have people who are in love with April fools and deem it as their favorite holiday and go out of their way to duct tape your whole wardrobe all together (a prank recently pulled on me), touche to all april fool pranksters!

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    1. Agreed! I used to work retail. One April fools day, I left work around 8pm to find my
      car saran-wrapped. All my fellow employees laughed...none helped me free the car.
      Turns out my brother was the culprit.

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