April 1st is known in many places as ‘April Fool’s Day’ but in France it is ‘April Fish’ day, if we are going to take the French translation, literally. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?! April 1st is so called, in France, because of the tradition of putting a paper fish on the back of someone without them knowing; in other words, fooling them.
But how did this custom come about? There are various suggestions but it appears that it was all to do with a change in the calender in the sixteenth century. New Year used to begin on the 1st April but King Charles 1X wanted to change it to the 1st January. In 1564, he signed the ‘Edict of Roussillon’, declaring January 1st as the official first day of the year throughout France.
People don’t like change at the best of times and many of the French population weren’t happy about the altered date of New Year and continued to celebrate on the former date of the 1st April. However, those who were in favour of the new calender mocked and played tricks on the reluctant ones.
The Lent period often included April 1st and was when the Church forbade followers to eat meat but allowed them to eat fish, hence another link to the ‘poisson d’avril’.
Having a paper fish placed on your back and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), is also said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and therefore a gullible person.
Over the years, French media has joined in with the tricks by publishing a variety of hoax stories. In 2020 it was reported that the Tour de France would be held in South Korea!
When I was teaching French to younger students, they always enjoyed the cultural aspect of our lessons, including finding out what their French counterparts do on April Fool’s Day. They would sometimes design their own ‘poissons d’avril’ and they liked the idea of secretly sticking a paper fish on someone’s back.
Later, when working as a consultant, I had the pleasure of visiting a primary school on 1st April. The headteacher was a real character and told the pupils that if anyone managed to stick a ‘poisson d’avril’on her back, without her knowing, they would win an Easter egg. Unfortunately, I had to go to my next school before I found out the result but I admired the headteacher ‘s enthusiasm!
Are you an enthusiast for April Fool’s Day? I know I have lovely readers from all over the world, perhaps you celebrate April Fool’s Day in a different way? I’d love to know!