Posted on Thursday, 30th Mar 2017
As the days are now noticeably lighter, hopefully so too is our mood. The month of April starts with what is now recognised around the world as the day best known for playing practical jokes. In the past, these have ranged from large-scale stunts about spaghetti growing on trees in Switzerland, to flying saucers landing in London. Pranksters are judged on their creativity and the all-important ability to convince friends and family into believing what at face value might appear somewhat absurd.
April 1 has long been a day when people try to fool and are fooled by others. Believed to originate in France, this tradition was thought to have begun following the French calendar reform of the sixteenth century. The theory goes that in 1564 King Charles XIV of France moved the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. As this was a period in time without transport and reliable communication systems, news was often slow and the uneducated, lower class people in rural France were the last to hear about these changes.
Those who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the out dated New Year, were likely to have practical jokes played on them. Pranksters would secretly stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so a tradition became.
Speaking of traditions, a dear school friend of mine recently told me of a lovely story about her mother, who found a chocolate fish in her coat pocket as she walked to school. Rosalie the home help, who had delivered her and her 6 siblings in their home in Brittany, had put it there. Rosalie cooked, laundered and delivered each of the babies and planted chocolate fish in their coat pockets every year on the 1st of April. This kindly home help gave all her life to that of helping others. Her birthday ironically was April 1st. She lived until she was 102, way out living my friend’s mother.
On the subject of longevity, most of us are already know some of the health benefits linked to eating chocolate, particularly the dark stuff, but just in case you needed any further encouragement, these include reducing stress levels, boosting wellbeing and increasing our brain activity.
As Easter approaches, the ritual of giving and receiving chocolate eggs has become as synonymous as Santa is to Christmas. Arguably this is the most important period in the Christian calendar, celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Yet how did an egg become associated with this commemorative time, let alone a chocolate one? One theory is that the egg is similar in shape to that of the tomb that Christ rose from on Easter Sunday. Another is that eating eggs was not allowed by the church during the week leading up to Easter (known as Holy Week), so any eggs laid that week were saved and decorated to make them ‘Holy Week eggs.’ These were then given to children as gifts. However it wasn’t until the 19th century that chocolate eggs began to appear in France and Germany and the association with Easter and chocolate eggs was born.
Traditionally chocolate is seen as a treat, something special despite perhaps being part of our every day lives. Our desire for chocolate is related to many things, such as the way it smells, melts on our tongue and the feelings it produces within us. The experience of eating chocolate results in feel good neurotransmitters (mainly dopamine) being released in particular brain regions (frontal lobe, hippocampus and hypothalamus), which essentially sets up a circuit that associates reward with action. To put it simply, it makes us want to do it over and over again. So while we may be able to restrain ourselves at times it really is a losing battle, because when we eat chocolate we are reminded over and over again of how much we enjoy it.
So perhaps we too should follow the example of Rosalie, the kindly home help and enjoy both the act of giving and receiving chocolate at this special time of year, after all what better way to enjoy being part of a celebration than to join in with it.
Happy Easter readers!