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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