April Fools’ Day traditions in France


Although not directly related to Easter, April Fools’ Day traditions are followed by all French children on 1 April. Paper fish are used to play an April Fools trick, involving sticking a paper fish onto the back of as many adults as possible, then running away yelling “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish!).

The French traditions of April Fools’ Day

April Fools' Day

Poisson d’Avril ! © French Moments

On the 1st of April, everyone has to pay attention to avoid being the victim of practical jokes and general foolishness. It is the ideal day for children (and grown-ups alike!) to tell funny jokes to those around them, including family members, friends, teachers, neighbours, colleagues at work, etc.

In France, April Fools’ Day is known for the “poisson d’avril” (April Fish) which dates back to 1564. The origin of the April Fish in France is quite obscure, maybe it was reminescent of the ichtus used by Christians in the Roman era.

According to popular beliefs, the New Year used to start on the 1st April up to the mid-sixteenth century. But as King of France, Charles IX wanted the year to start on the 1st January, he made a swift change to the French calendar and made it official on the Edict of Roussillon.

Legend has it that some people were not at all happy with this enforced law for many reasons, and continued to celebrate the new year in their own way around the 1st April. The people who embraced the new calendar started to mock the reluctant ones and gave them false presents and played tricks on them.

April Fools' Day

Beware le poisson d’avril ! © French Moments

During that time, the 1st April coincided with the end of Lent when the Church forbade Christians to eat meat. Fish was tolerated and was often used in the offering of gifts for the New Year.

When the jokes started to become more common, false fish were often used to trick the victim. There lies the legendary origin of April Fish, stuck on the back of the fools, those who did not accept the changing times or who saw the world through their own eyes only.

Our 2015 Poisson d’Avril

Did you know? If Paris goes ahead on its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, the French authorities are seriously planning to move the Eiffel Tower to the top of the Champs-Élysées. The new vista would look like this:

April Fools' Day

The Eiffel Tower in place of the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

Read more about our 2015 April Fools’ Day joke!

Creating a Fish for April Fools’ Day

Nowadays, April Fish are made and coloured by children at school or at home. In our French Lessons for Kids they did their own and voilà the results:

Find out more about Spring in France.

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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