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Poisson D'Avril

Poisson D'Avril


In France on the first of April, if you're not careful, you could find yourself labelled an "April fish" or in French, poisson d'avril.  

Children colour in paper fish and cut them out before going in search of victims.  They try to stick a paper fish on the back of as many people as possible without being noticed, before running away yelling, "Poisson d'Avril!" . Notice they are called April fish and not April fool as we say.

This is an ancient tradition and you can see these delightful fish featuring prominently on many late 19th to early 20th century French postcards.

Some say this centuries old tradition evolved from sending an unsuspecting idiot to market to buy freshwater fish when it wasn't in season. In France, only a "fool" would not know what produce was available at any time of year!

Another theory of the origin dates back to the calendar.  In Europe in the Middle Ages, the new year started on March 25th and week long celebrations finished on April 1st. In the mid 16th century, New Year's Day was changed to January 1st but not everyone was quick to change. 

Those who lagged behind and still celebrated on April 1st were made fun of and called "fools" by the more progressive members of society.  

Make sure you keep your wits about you so you don't fall victim to the many "fake news" stories that pop up on this day in newspapers and social media.  If a story sounds absurd - or if it includes a subtle reference to fish, that's often the clue that it's an April fools joke.

On the positive side, around the beginning of April, chocolate fish also start appearing in French shops to celebrate this fun day.

These quirky fishy tales are not exclusive to France. Similar traditions also exist in Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and French speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada.