APRIL FOOLS’ and LEGGING-UP DAY
April 2019 is a peculiar month. It is riddled with trickery, religion, and superstition. That is, April Fool pranks, Easter in the Christian calendar, and pagan undercurrents. Let’s start with the First of April – commonly known as Fools’ (or All Fools’) Day and, in Hull after twelve noon, Legging-up Day – a different kind of ‘leg-pulling’.
April Fool is fun – for some, not everyone. It depends which end you are upon! It is a day to be alert and watch out for any shenanigans.
It is not a superstition – more a tradition with a longish history. There are some tentative links to Chaucer (1392); Shakespeare often had a Fool in several of his plays; and in France (1508) there was reference to April Fish. A cut-out paper or cloth fish was secretly attached to the back of someone’s garment. In more recent times, Continental newspaper articles print some fake news, but leave a clue in the text by alluding to a fish – thus indicating to astute readers that it is a spoof story.
And in the UK, a big joke fooled the nation back in 1957. Panorama presenter Richard Dimbleby reported, in a three-minute clip, how the spaghetti harvest in Switzerland was coming along that year and how it was grown on trees.
A common rule, however, is that the joke can only be played before mid-day on the First of April – otherwise, it backfires and the laugh is upon the trickster. Yet in Hull, we like to keep the craziness going a little bit longer and, at the same time, give it a nasty twist. This unique local tradition is called Legging-up Day. It begins in the afternoon on every April the First – immediately after the humorous side was over.
Legging-up was what it said on the tin. The crude idea was to sneak up behind someone and trip them up so they hit the ground. Perhaps it ought to be called Legging-down Day. The ‘fun’ element was to laugh at the victim as they fell down with a thud!
I hated it. When a school lad – and being on the smaller side – I was usually the target of such bullies. It was not fun in my book – but I survived and was glad when it was over for another year.
A quick search of the internet suggest that Legging-up Day is unique to Hull. Is this true? What do you recall of this Hull-centric custom? How and when did it start in the first place?
EASTER and FREYA
Easter is particularly late this year. Easter Sunday is on 21 April – possibly as late as it can get. It is determined by the phases of the moon (rather than the actual date when Christ was crucified – unlike His birth which has a fixed date). Whenever I give a talk about superstitions and Friday the Thirteenth is mentioned, most of the audience express the popular view that the date is unlucky because there were thirteen seated at The Last Supper and Christ was killed on a Friday. This erroneous theory is often repeated by the media.
There are two elements to this Biblical account: Friday and No.13. Let us, therefore, investigate each of these Easter dimensions separately – beginning with Friday.
Easter is obviously in the New Testament, but one author highlighted an Old Testament reason why Friday is bad news. He claimed that this day is ill-fated because that is when Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit (Waring, 1978) – but how anyone on earth worked that out is a mystery to me! Did the Garden of Eden have a calendar pinned to a tree?
My view, however, centres upon Pagan beliefs that worshipped goddesses. Friday is the only day of the week named after a woman. She is the Nordic goddess Freya or Frigg (Guerber, 1908). This Queen of the Gods “possessed knowledge of the future”; had a palace by the sea where she wove long webs of bright coloured clouds; and had special attendants who were magical maidens.
In German mythology, Freya presides over the weather. Mariners from time immemorial, therefore, have strong cause to be wary of her and be careful not to set sail on the day dedicated to her. Guerber mentioned that “when Christianity was introduced into northern Europe…Freya, like all heathen divinities, was declared a demon or witch”. When this female Friday falls on the thirteenth day of any month, then there is increased danger for those who are superstitious.
If Friday has a female dimension, then No.13 adds an even more powerful feminine link.
‘The Last Supper’ is the popular answer to the question: “Why is 13 unlucky”? This was when Jesus ate with his twelve disciples – thereby a link between 13 and his death has been formed. Indeed, it is considered a serious blunder if a host has thirteen guests at one table. The Last Supper view is interesting, but does not stand up to close examination. Whenever Christ did anything with all of his disciples, there were thirteen of them (e.g. Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 10:1-4). No one claims that climbing a mount is unlucky because Jesus and the disciples did it over 2000 years ago.
Moreover, to seriously suggest that The Last Supper is unlucky is surely to undermine the whole bedrock of Christianity – the Crucifixion. Had Christ not died on the cross, Christianity would not have progressed – and is that an unlucky development? The same logic can also be applied to Friday – after all, Christians call it ‘Good Friday’– not Black, Unlucky or Bad Friday.
Now, what about my female focus around No.13 and the pagans? Unlike our twelve calendar months, there are thirteen lunar months per year. The moon cycles control the turbulent seas of our planet. Every tide-time seafarers are reminded of the power of the moon which controls their fate. Freya was also a Moon Goddess. The mysterious moon also controls the female menstrual cycle and is associated with lunacy. Ancient fishermen feared local witches who gathered together in a coven of thirteen women. So when this female number falls on the only feminine day of the week – Friday – there is “Double, double toil and trouble” (Macbeth 4:2).
Psychologically, some people have high expectations that things will go wrong on that dreaded date (e.g. stormy weather, ill health). If something dreadful happens, they make a big fuss and illogically attribute the cause to the ominous date. If nothing negative happens, it is ignored and discreetly forgotten.
We look for confirming incidents of our pre-held beliefs, whilst conveniently overlooking anything that does not fit our expectations. Simon and Garfunkel sum it up well in their lyrics: “A man sees what he want to see and disregards the rest” (The Boxer, 1970).
Well, for my part, I am looking forward to bringing you more seasonal superstitions in the months ahead – thanks to the Hull Hub.