Happy Holidays

by Sheila Connolly

Yesterday was one of the major holidays in the religious world—Easter. This year, by coincidence, April 1 was also the fixed date of one of the silliest holidays in European and Western communities.

Easter is what is known as a movable feast, which means it has no permanent date. Years ago, when I was studying medieval art (which includes much religious imagery, about which I had to do research), I worked out how its date was once determined, which involves a lot of factors and is impossible for most of us to remember from year to year. Wikipedia boils it down to “the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March.”

So on the one hand we have a significant ecclesiastical holy day, and on the other we have people playing tricks on others and telling silly jokes, in close proximity, on what we call April Fool’s Day.

Years ago I happened to be in France on April 1st. There the day is known as “Poisson d’Avril.” Yes, that means April Fish. I probably wouldn’t have noticed except that I saw people on the street walking around with a paper fish pinned to the back of their shirt, so I asked someone why. I understand that the goal is to pin it on someone without them noticing, and if you succeed, you get to call the victim an April Fish.

Why a fish? Again, one theory is that it is somehow linked the the zodiacal sign Pisces—the fish. (Although that sign falls a bit before April 1.) But I’m not sure anyone knows the origins.

Bottom line: many countries celebrate this day devoted to silliness, under a variety of names, such as Huntigowk Day from Scotland (not much used any more), and that name April Fish gets around to Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and parts of Switzerland and Canada. Isn’t that lovely? We need laughter and humor in the world, and this is a friendly kind.

Does anybody know any other holidays that serve no purpose other than to make us smile?

19 thoughts on “Happy Holidays

  1. Happy Poisson d’Avril! France may have several unusual but fun holidays. I went to a bilingual high school and on St. Catherine’s Day we wore decorated hats – somehow that was to prevent us from dying old maids. The first year I decorated mine with tourist statues of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe That hat was HEAVY by the end of the day – future hats were far less weighty.

    • Kait, there are several St. Catherine’s Day parades around the world: Paris has the most famous one. New York City also has a parade.

      My friend Claudia Lynch, an artist and writer in New Orleans, and a former milliner herself (St. Catherine is the patron saint of milliners), started a St. Catherine’s Day parade there several years ago. My husband and I went to visit for the event, which is always the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The women parade wearing amazing chapeaus, and the “chevaliers du champagne” dress in tuxedos and serve champagne to the hat-wearing ladies. It’s a fabulous event.

    • Love that article! I can just picture the CSI crew trying to make a plaster cast of a manuscript. “The varying pressure of the feather pen on the parchment shows that the scribe must have been an epileptic Greek.”

    • That’s what it has become in the modern world. But I think originally all the costumes and such were meant to ward off evil spirits, who roamed on October 31st. (Wonder whose idea the candy was?)

  2. Thanks for the fun facts, Sheila. I passed it on to my friends on a country-side forum (with complete credit given to you and the Wickeds). Kay, I was thinking the same thing. I love all the National (fill-in-blank) holidays. I know in Peru there seems to an excuse for a parade, special food, and general partying practically every week. Some of them are serious and some of them are just plain silly.

  3. Sheila and Edith: Yes, on All Hallow’s Eve, people would dress up to scare away evil spirits and go door to door offering prayers for any deceased members of the household in return for treats (cakes, usually). Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, etc. served the same purpose. The scary masks were to scare away evil spirits.

    I like the idea of April Fish.

    • Come to think of it, I was in the Yucatan on Dia de los Muertos once–my husband was doing a post-doc there, and our daughter hadn’t been born yet. There was less obvious celebration of the day than I expected, but then, the Yucatan is not quite like to rest of Mexico. Fascinating plate, though.

  4. This sounds similar to those “kick me” signs kids used to try & stick to your back. I like the fish much better. A lot less mean.

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