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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of July!
And so, people continued to celebrate the new year in their own way around the 1st of 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 of 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 of the hoaxes in the media!
It has become a tradition in the French media to observe the commemoration of the 1st of April. Newspapers, magazines, on the radio and on the Internet relay fake stories. To make sure nobody is fooled permanently they are usually revealed the next day!
Here is a short selection of hoaxes published in France for April Fools’ Day.
The village of Asterix found by archaeological excavations
On 1 April 1993, the London newspaper The Independent announced that archaeologists had discovered the remains of the village of Asterix. According to the British daily, the village is located in Le Yaudet, near Lannion in Brittany, at the very spot where René Goscinny, the creator of the comic strip, had imagined it in his books. In fact, professors from Oxford and Brest Universities lent themselves to the game by declaring that they had found coins decorated with wild boar (Obelix’s favourite dish) as well as an incredible collection of menhirs.
The Eiffel Tower to move to Disneyland Paris
On April 1, 1986, the newspaper Le Parisien published the disconcerting news that the Eiffel Tower was about to be dismantled and then moved to Marne-la-Vallée, the site of the future Disneyland Paris. Le Parisien then revealed that the empty space left by the “Iron Lady” would be used to build a 35,000-seat stadium for the 1992 Olympic Games. Fortunately, this heresy was avoided!
The rotation of the earth slowed down by wind turbines
On 1 April 2009, David Pujadas announced in the 8 pm news programme on France 2 that the multiplication of wind turbines on the surface of the earth would slow down its rotation. This news would result in the lengthening of the days. In fact, one day would pass from 24 to 25 hours.
Homer Simpson’s voice used by the SNCF
On 1 April 2009, the French railway company contacted Philippe Peythieu (Homer’s French voice in the “The Simpsons” series) to surprise the commuters and travellers. Indeed, the dubbing of Homer’s character replaced the usual voice of SNCF announcements to trap passengers. We could therefore hear crazy announcements sounding in about fifteen French stations (Rouen, Toulouse, Paris…), such as:
“The train from Alaska is expected to arrive on the Milky Way. Beware of bears and the edge of the platform”.
Then, the SNCF stroke back on 1st April 2015, announcing trains coming from Pretoria or going to Sydney.
Giraffes spotted on the French Riviera
“Nature takes back its rights”.
This is a phrase often heard since the beginning of the Spring 2020 lockdown in France. Well, municipal officers in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, in the Maritime Alps, encountered strange animals in the streets of their city.
— Beaulieu-sur-Mer (@Beaulieu06310) April 1, 2020
Indeed, nature took back its rights, with animals coming from far away, such as the famous Beaulieu giraffes visible in this Twitter publication of the town.
The Tour de France in South Korea
Also 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.
Our own Poisson d’Avril!
Did you know? As Paris is getting ready 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. Download our Poissons d’Avril Worksheet and start colouring them.
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