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From April Fools to April Fish

It’s that time of year again, when it’s fully acceptable to do your utmost to make your friends/colleagues look ridiculous by playing pranks on them. April Fool’s day is celebrated with just as much vigour in Italy as elsewhere, though the tradition is known as the pesce d’Aprile (April Fish) rather than the english April Fool’s day.

A clear manifestation of this is the classic joke played, which involves attaching a paper fish to some unwitting person’s back – they’ll spend the day passing people who, spotting the fish – after checking their own back – can have a self-satisfied snigger. The day is similarly known in France (poisson d’Avril) for the self-same joke.

There’s plenty of discussion regarding the by-now-obscure origins of the tradition. The idea of playing jokes on April 1st seems to be tied over to the changeover from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian, with people slow to adapt to the new system being ridiculed. But where’s the fish in all of this?

Well, there’s one theory that dates it back to a prank played by Cleopatra on her Roman lover Mark Anthony (an account written by Plutarch).  The couple went, along with their attendants, fishing one day according to the story. The fish weren’t  biting, though, and a bashful Mark Anthony slyly instructed his men to dive below the boat and attach live fish to his lines. He thus landed a good catch – but Cleopatra wasn’t biting, so to speak, for the prank. She invited him to return the next day to the same spot, this time instructing her divers to attach a dead fish to his lines. Mark Anthony landed the dead fish, and realised the game was up.

Regardless of the origins, the tradition of playing jokes lives on – so watch out for those pesce d’aprile!

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