April Fools!

For many, the fact that April Fools Day has just past is such a relief. This holiday comes once a year on the first day of every April, and is notorious for its pranks and cruel jokes. We have been living through this famous day for as long as we can remember, but do any of us truly know where the one day of year where nobody is safe comes from? Let’s look back at history. The origin of this day is slightly unclear, due to the fact that there are many theories regarding it. One of the most popular theories is the one including Pope George XIII, who ordered in the late 1500’s, possibly 1582, that Christian countries, particularly France, change their calendars to the Roman one. This would mean that the Julian calendar would have to be switched to the Gregorian calendar. With this alteration, the new year would be moved from its original date in the spring on April 1st to it’s new date in the winter on January 1st, which we have adopted as well for our celebration of New Year’s. Due to the fact that it was the 16th century, and there were many who resided in rural areas at the time, it took a while for news to spread that New Years had been moved. There were also those who simply refused to recognize the shift. Anyone who continued to celebrate the old New Year’s date was classified as “April Fools,” which is where we get the holiday’s name from. Spring celebrators were mocked, and had paper fish stuck onto their backs without their knowledge, which symbolized an “easy to catch fish,” or a gullible person, also called “Poisson D’Avril” in French. America is not the only country who has a day in the year specifically dedicated to silliness. India celebrates a spring festival called Holi, in which people play jokes and throw dyes at each other. Iran celebrates the holiday of Sizdah Bedar, in which pranks are also played on April 1st. According to the Museum of Hoaxes, “It’s more likely that April Fool’s Day resembles these other celebrations because they’re all manifestations of a deeper pattern of folk behavior — an instinct to respond to the arrival of spring with festive mischief and symbolic misrule,” and I couldn’t agree more with this statement.

A medieval times image of a man being tagged with a paper fish on his back

A medieval times image of a man being tagged with a paper fish on his back

Goldfish In Danger?

March 21st marks the first day of the vernal equinox, also known as spring in the Northern Hemisphere. To Iranians, this begins Nowruz (Translation: New Day), also known as the new year. This holiday originates from the Zoroastrian religion, dating back to the early Persian empire, and is widely celebrated by Iranians of all faiths. As part of the Persian tradition during the new year, a table is set up called Haft Seen (Translation: 7 S’s). This table typically consists of foods, which start with the letter S in the persian language (sprouts, dried fruit, apples garlic, pudding, vinegar, crushed sumac berries), as well as goldfish put in a clear bowl. Each item placed on the table symbolizes one’s wishes for the new year, such as growth, love, beauty, health, fertility, patience, and wisdom. Goldfish in particular symbolize good luck, good fortune, and life.

On March 20th, Sam Mojabi went to a local Petco shop to purchase goldfish for the holiday. When he asked a sales associate for goldfish, his ethnicity was question. Once Mojabi mentioned he was of Persian descent, the sales associate systematically denied him the sale. Shocked, he asked why, and the only response he was provided was that it was a decision made by headquarters, even after mentioning that he had intentions of taking great care of the fish. Mojabi later found out that his sister Samira was also denied the sale at another Petco location during the same month. Outraged, they filed a lawsuit with their attorney Henrik Sardarbegian for civil rights violations and a violation of the state Business and Professions Code. “During this time, Petco stores specifically declined the sale of goldfish to Persians and those of Iranian background,” the suit alleges. Petco and its management “sent out memorandum commanding its retail staff to decline the sale of such fish to Persians,” the suit also alleges. Their attorney argued, “Petco’s refusal to sell goldfish to Persians may have arisen from a mistaken belief that people intend to kill the fish. They [Persians] absolutely do not harm the fish. People want the fish to live as long as possible, because the longer a family keeps the fish alive, the more fortune and life is brought to them during the year.” Their attorney also argued that people who were not Persian were not asked their intent before being allowed to buy goldfish, specifically saying, “Right now, a 15-year-old boy who wants to buy a goldfish to feed to his snake could go and buy one.” The only response provided by Petco was, “We [Petco] have a strong commitment to animal welfare and responsible pet ownership and we do not tolerate discrimination of any sort. While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are looking into the specifics, if any, of this claim.” The Mojabi’s attorney fired back, saying that Petco’s policy also has “tended to cause discontent, animosity, harm, resentment or envy among the various cultures, and is especially troubling, arbitrary and invidious at a time when our nation and its citizens are working harder than ever to mend racial and cultural divisions across the country.”

The lawsuit was settled on October 12th, with no further details released. Petco no longer has a store policy of denying the sale of goldfish to Persians on the first day of spring. Like attorney Sardarbegian said, denying those of Iranian and Persian background the right to buy goldfish for the celebration of the Iranian New Year is “illegal and repugnant,” and is just as bad as charging women and blacks higher prices for merchandise than men and whites, or as denying sales of items to gays that heterosexuals are allowed to buy. Although there are still animal rights organizations which have objected to the tradition, claiming the fish die after the celebration due to health problems or the shock of being turned loose into streams or ponds, thankfully the holiday and its traditions of more than 3000 years are still peacefully and safely celebrated.

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A woman setting up her Haftseen table as part of tradition for Nowruz

Lady Liberty’s Lights Go Out. On Purpose Or Just A Coincidence?

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Lady Liberty’s normal, beaming appearance

On Tuesday, March 7th, the Statue of Liberty temporarily went dark from 10:00 PM to 11:30 PM. With her entire body and robe completely covered in darkness, only her crown and torch was left glowing on the New York Harbor. Ironically, the incident took place on International Women’s Day, making timing of Lady Liberty’s blackout appear all too coincidental to some. Although the official twitter account of the Statue of Liberty National Monument posted the morning after the incident, “Some lights on the Statue were temporarily off tonight. Likely related to new emergency generator/Hurricane Sandy recovery project work,” some viewed the glitch as intentional. Organizers of the Women’s March called on thousands to strike on “A Day Without a Woman.” Some believe that perhaps America’s most illustrious woman took the opportunity to be the very first to speak and protest on the special day. According to the Women’s March website, their group’s strike intended to acknowledge, “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system, while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment and job insecurity.” Lady Liberty making her presence known during the effort was not gone unrecognized by the group, and the official Twitter account of the Women’s March posted, “Thank you Lady Liberty for standing with the resistance and going dark for #DayWithoutAWoman.” Others who also saw deeper meaning in Lady Liberty’s break from her normal illuminating self also took advantage and went to Twitter to post their opinions. Raymond Braun posted, “CNN has just reported that the Statue of Liberty has gone dark tonight. Power failure or social commentary?” Aparna Nancherla posted, “Apparently the Statue of Liberty lights went out due to a power failure. But I would argue women are also protesting due to a power failure.” Unfortunately, the activists were shut down to the idea that the recent happenings were purposely caused. Jerry Willis from the National Parks Service provided an explanation as to why everything happened the way it did, “ The temporary, unplanned outage occurred after a lighting system controller was switched off to change out faulty lighting equipment. When the repair was completed, the lighting system controller wasn’t properly reset, leading to the outage.” Deeper meaning and symbolism can still be found, for everything does happen for a reason, and Lady Liberty could not have picked a more perfect time to draw attention to herself. Fortunately, she has now gone back to her usual, shining self.