Bygone Wishes II

    Now in our last thrilling episode, we covered a forgotten postcard custom, that of sending postcards with pigs on them to wish someone a happy and prosperous new year.  I regret that we only scratched the surface  of the subject, as those pigs are legion, and could be found engaged in dozens of different activities, from opening champagne bottles at midnight to having their smiling heads served on a platter.  How this all signified the same good wishes is beyond me, but I did say it was a forgotten custom, didn’t I/

     Postcards also brought me to an awareness of another holiday tradition which is not so much forgotten as less worldwide in nature.  And that is sending good wishes to your friends on April Fool’s Day  The first of April served as a combination first day of spring and new Year’s Day for much of the world, a day when the winter underwear could be discarded and nice clothes could be worn again.  (In some parts of the world, this was considered foolhardy.  In England, as noted in the oft-censored poem, the first of May is considered more springlike.)  For generations, people celebrated New year’s Day on or around March 25, and there are tales that when certain kings ordered their people to celebrate the first of January as New Year’s Day, the poor souls put on their best spring clothes and went out to dance and were mowed down by the hundreds by frostbite.  This is not, apparently, where the whole April Fool’s custom came from, but it may have been a contributing factor.

    In any case, in France, the first of April included both practical jokes AND good wishes, and both of these involved fish.  Fish became so inseparable from April 1 that to this day, if you fall for a joke on that day, you will not hear “April Fool!” but instead “{posspn d’April!” or “April Fish!  The prankster may well tape a paper fish to your back as another sign of how you were fooled.”

    Fish, however,likre pigs, are considered a reliable food source, though, so they communicate good wishes as well.  Chocolate fish are a frequent gift on April 1, as are cookies or cakes which are similarly flounder-formed.  And, naturally, there had to be postcards.

    Fish and/or people on these cards indulged in a variety of escapades: fish were as likely to be seen canoeing as swimming, and people carried fish, created bouquets of fish, left fish as calling cards, caught fish, or cooked fish.  They seldom appeared on the cards actually eating the fish, though this favor was not returned by the fish

    Some of these cards could be grand and glorious art nouveau fantasy creations, or just salutes to the technology of the age.

    But more often, a deadpan acceptance of a surreal holiday was simply accepted.

    Children were often combined with fish, but sometimes even the most fake-looking fish seemed to displease them.  (The poem suggests the sender of the card is simply overcome with emotion at the thought of you.)

    At other times, they were proud of their errand.

    Or impressed with the sweetness of the sentiments.

    This is a mere sampling of the fish stories available on bygone April First cards.  As noted, the custom of Poissons d’April is still strong in France, though, as in other parts of the world, the postcards are far less common now./  But this is merely another example of what we lose with the passage of time.  It’s entirely natural, so it does no good to carp about it.

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