Put a Fish On It: April Fool’s Day in Italy

Pesce d'Aprile

April Fools’ Day may seem to some like a uniquely American phenomenon, but it’s celebrated in various forms (and on different dates) in many different countries. In a few European countries – including Italy – April 1st is known as “April’s Fish.”

These days, April’s Fish – Pesce d’Aprile in Italian – is essentially the same thing as April Fools’ Day, with pranks or jokes played on others for laughs. This has always been the gist of April Fools’ Day, no matter what it’s called, although in the countries where the day is associated with fish there is a specific prank that’s played.

As the name hints, the most common prank involved in Pesce d’Aprile is to affix a paper drawing or cutout of a fish onto the back of an unsuspecting victim. Then, everyone else asks if anyone has seen “April’s fish” – when, of course, the victim doesn’t know he or she is the one they’re talking about. Although this may be a bit old-fashioned today, taping a fish onto someone’s back is still something Italian children do.

Historically, there are references to what may be April Fools’ Day as far back as the 14th century. In Italy, it is said to have been popularized first in Genoa in the late 19th century by the wealthy classes. Along with pinning a fish on someone’s back, some pranks were more elaborate and far-reaching, designed to fool larger segments of the population into believing something. It’s always supposed to be done in the spirit of fun, of course, not to harm or swindle anyone.

There are tales of historic Pesce d’Aprile hoaxes in Italy, including newspapers printing details of fake events to draw large crowds (who are then basically told that they’re gullible fools). There are also some sweet 19th century postcards from Italy, France, and elsewhere depicting the Pesce d’Aprile (Poisson d’Avril in French) and images of a fish in the decorations.

Generally speaking, you should be dubious about things you read or see on April 1st, at home and in Italy. This article, however, is 100% true. Don’t you believe me?

One response to “Put a Fish On It: April Fool’s Day in Italy”

  1. Sylvia May says:

    Indeed, are there really those who believe it’s an American tradition. Here in the UK there is mention back in Chaucer’s day (again, 14th century). I love the idea of pinning paper fishes onto people’s backs, though. I think I’ll have a stock of them ready for next year…

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