April Fool’s Day or Poisson d’Avril in France


Essential Reading

April Fool’s Day or Poisson d’Avril in France

Poisson d’Avril” or “April Fish” is April Fools’ Day in France. As in many countries around the world, the first day of April is traditionally a time when practical jokes and all things silly are expected.

In France, journalists and social media pages often circulate “fake news” to catch people out and even schools get in on the act. Our local Primary school directrice in Verdille, 16, always sends a letter out to parents with some amusing nonsense that catches parents out – especially me in the early days when my French wasn’t as good!

What is an April Fool in France?

An April Fool or Poisson d’avril is where children make colourfully decorated paper fish, which are stuck onto the backs of an unsuspecting adult or friend (without their knowledge.) It is discovered to the cries of, “Poisson d’avril!”

I remember being seriously confused about this in our first year in France. The children came home flapping paper fish, and I did not have a clue what was going on!

What are the origins of April Fools’Day in France?

There are a couple of explanations, but the truth is, nobody is absolutely sure!

One plausible explanation is that as April 1st falls within Lent and with France being a traditionally Catholic country, the consumption of meat during this period was forbidden. Fish, however, was allowed. People gave fish to their family and friends, and this was said to be later replaced by fish-shaped offerings and, afterwards, by paper fish as a joke.

Why the jokes?

In brief, King Charles IX (following the edict from Pope Gregory XIII, which saw the implementation of the Gregorian calendar, which essentially spaces leap years) changed the date of the beginning of the year from April 1st to January 1st. This was an attempt to unify practices throughout France as previously, customs could vary from department to department (and still do with many practices!)

As you can imagine, in the 16th century, new ideas and changes took a while to be accepted and even to be publicised and widely known. Hence, many people continued to celebrate on April 1st. Those who had accepted the new ways gradually began to mock the traditionalists and called them, so it is said, “Poisson d’avril.”

Why a fish? Well, this could have to do with the zodiac sign of Pisces or associated religious symbolism and rules of Lent, or the fact that spring fish are young and easily caught. Nobody really knows!

All I know is that I love this slightly different, quirky tradition and the joy it brings our children. They are still keen to slap us on the back at breakfast, thinking we are blissfully unaware of the colourful poisson d’avril they’ve stuck there!

Enjoy your April Fools and Poisson d’avril pranks, everyone!

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Carol, a teacher from Hurworth in Darlington, lives in Charente in South-West France, where she runs La Grue Gites with her family.

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