Alongside Easter, French children follow April Fools’ Day traditions in Spring. On 1 April, people use paper fish to play an April Fools trick. This involves sticking a paper fish onto the back of as many adults as possible. And then running away yelling “Poisson d’Avril !” (April Fish!). Yes you better check your back if you happen to be in France on that day!
The French traditions of April Fools’ Day
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.
April Fools’ Day in France
In France, April Fools’ Day is known for the “poisson d’avril” (April Fish). That tradition dates back to 1564.
The origin of the April Fish in France is quite obscure. Maybe it was reminiscent of the ichtus used by Christians in the Roman era.
A new date has come!
A long long time ago the New Year started on the 1st April. This ended in the mid-16th century. In an edict given at Paris in January 1563, king Charles IX (1550–1574) made a swift change to the French calendar. The King of France wanted the year to start on the 1st January. The royal edict was promulgated at Roussillon on the 9th August 1564 and is known as the Edict of Roussillon. However, the change of date applied from the 1st January 1567.
Legend has it!
Legend has it that some people were not at all happy with this enforced law. This for many reasons. You know, people don’t like change. And this was a BIG change – imagine if we had to move Christmas to the 25th July!
And so, people continued to celebrate the new year in their own way around the 1st April.
Those who embraced the new calendar started to mock the reluctant ones.
And gave them false presents and played tricks on them!
When the 1st April coincided with the end of Lent
During that time, the 1st April coincided with the end of Lent. This is a period of time 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, people often used false fish to trick their victim.
There lies the legendary origin of April Fish, stuck on the back of the fools.
The fools who did not accept the changing times.
Or the fools who saw the world through their own eyes only!
Beware the hoaxes in the media!
It has become a tradition in the French media to observe the commemoration of the 1st April. Newspapers, magazines, on the radio and in the Internet relay fake stories. To make sure nobody is fooled permanently they are usually revealed the next day!
On the 1st April 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, French media reported that the famous Tour de France bicycle race would be taking place in South Korea.
Click here for a list of hoaxes published in France for April Fools’ Day.
Our own 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:
Notice the subtle reference to a fish! It was given as a clue but many people didn’t see it and believed the whole story (for one day only as we revealed the hoax the next day!!)
Read more about our 2015 April Fools’ Day joke!
Creating a Fish for April Fools’ Day
Nowadays, children make and colour April Fish at school or at home. When we run a French language centre in Sydney, Australia, we asked our youngest French students to draw their own fish and voilà:
Check out our blog article about Spring in France.
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