April Fools’ Day or Poisson d’Avril

Living abroad has kept me curious. Foreigners wouldn’t be able to go on with their lives if they didn’t try to understand the countless new things that surround them. And living abroad gave me back a sense of wonder I’d lost in my familiar France.

When it came to traditions it’s always through my American-born children that I’ve questionned the origins of the French traditions I was passing on.

Take April 1st for example.

April Fools’ in the USA, Poisson d’Avril in France.

Since I’ll be embarking the crazy A to Z Challenge boat on April 1st, I’m posting two days in advance about this French tradition.


In France, on April 1st, in addition to the jokes people tell each other, children pin a cutout fish in the back of friends, classmates, or siblings.

The point is to make fun of those unfortunate people who will walk around with a fish on their back.
Although I’ve pinned more than one fish on my friends’ backs and walked with one on my shirt at least twice without noticing, it’s only when my children asked me, “Why a fish?” that I did some research about the origins of this tradition.


The reasons vary a lot and it’s hard to know for sure. However, it seems that it goes back to 1564 when the French King Charles IX decided to change the calendar. From now on, the year would begin on January 1st instead of April 1st as it had been until then. On that day, people used to exchange gifts in honor of the New Year. Many had a hard time adjusting to the new calendar and kept celebrating on April 1st.
Their friends made fun of them, and since it was it was the end of Lent in the Christian calendar and that people ate fish instead of meat during this religious time, a paper fish was pinned in the back of the foolish ones who kept celebrating the beginning of the year on April 1st.

April 1st is celebrated in many countries all around the globe, but the fish looks like a very French addition to the typical jokes.


Do you have favorite April Fools’ jokes? Have you fallen for one?


P.S. See you on April 1st for the 2016 A to Z Challenge. And it’s not a Poisson d’Avril.


  1. Thank you! My kids are in a French Immersion program and they do this every year but I’ve never known the origin and they’ve never really been able to explain it to me.

  2. ah yes it begins! yet another April fool’s tradition to renew lol 🙂

  3. je crois que ce que je préfère, c’est essayer de débusquer les poissons dans la presse locale. les journaux francophones sont très friands de cette tradition des canulars, je ne sais pas si c’est le cas partout ?

    • Ici aussi la presse annonce souvent des nouvelles qui au premier abord peuvent sembler normales. Les français sont très bons à ce genre de choses. Ce sens de l’humour me manque parfois. Merci de votre visite.

  4. I love learning about these differences and the history behind them Evelyne. Good luck with the challenge. I am going to try to follow along.

    • Thank you, Dan. I would never ask anyone to stop by every day for a whole month. That’s a lot of posts for me and for the reader. I’m way behind my blog reading too. I still hope to see you once in a while. 😊

      • I only follow about half a dozen people who are doing the challenge. Yours are pretty quick reads and I do find them interesting. I can’t say I’ll be there every day, but I’ll hang with you as I can.

  5. I think most places used to start the year in the spring. March used to be when new Presidents were inaugurated here, too. I love this kind of oddball history. I would never have known this but for your post, so thank you. I feel smarter than before 🙂

    • Thank you, Marilyn, for stopping by once more. Yes, I read that spring used to mark the beginning of the new year in many places. Makes sense as it is a time of renewal. I hope all is well for you in New England and that I’ll see you sometime in April during the crazy A to Z challenge.

  6. At school, one 1 April a student knocked on the staff room door and asked to be admitted. This was v unusual. He marched confidently to the middle of the room and put a box on the floor. ‘The students have clubbed together and collected a few things as gifts. Please enjoy with our love.’ At which point he made a hasty retreat. In the box were 72 spark plugs that fitted all sorts of different cars.The mass exodus of panicked teachers from the staffroom has probably only been beaten by the first class passengers on the Titanic when the iceberg hit. Said student’s father ran the local garage and all the plugs were duds. That was the best I ever witnessed.

    • April’s jokes can be creative! Now days I can see why teachers and school staff would panic when opening such a box. Lou Galino who commented above said he likes to debusk the pranks in the newspapers. They are also my favorites. Thank you for sharing yours! Happy April Fools’ Day!

  7. So interesting about pinning a fish on your back. I think I always fall for April Fools’ jokes–I’m just really gullible!

    • Yes, the fish is kind of cute and not dangerous or too mean. Like you, I’m quite gullible if not naive and I fell for a few things in the past. My husband is especially good at that because he can keep a straight face, something I can’t do. Enjoy April Fool’s Day, Jennifer! See you soon.

  8. Years ago when I was going into the Peace Corps, I had to have a physical at the army induction center. I stood in a long line of semi-dressed men to be poked and prodded, a not very pleasant experience. The next morning I got up ann there was a note from my roommate, who was also going into the Peace Corps. It said that they had problems with my urinalysis and that I had to return to the center. That’s just great, I thought. I called the center and was bounced all over the place. No one could find a problem. They told me to call back later. That evening, my roommate returned from his classes and I told him about the problem. “What’s today?” he asked. And I suddenly realized it was April 1st. I didn’t hurt him too badly when I caught up with him several blocks later. –Curt

    • Retrospectively, it’s funny, but I’m sure that you worried, too. I’ve always had mixed feeling about pranks when they’re directly targeted at someone in particular. That’s maybe why the French fish is kind of cute because it’s not mean, just slightly embarrassing. I also like when newspapers plant a news story that’s just weird enough that I wonder if it’s true or not. I often fall for them! Thank you, Curt, for visiting my little blog. Happy April Fools’ Day and Happy Travels, too!

      • It was a short discomfort, well worth the story, as so many adventures are. I even incorporated it into my book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam” and made sure that Cliff read it. 🙂 Happy April Fools’ Day to you Evelyne. –Curt

  9. msugar13 says:

    I was actually just going through the signup list because I will be traveling tomorrow and I won’t be able to visit many blogs. We will be driving home from our kids spring break trip and it will be an all day trip. You are right below me or right above me on the A to Z sign up list. I’ve never heard of the fish story. What an interesting April Fools Joke? We played many April Fools jokes in the states, but they were all silly and nothing sticks in my mind. I will check back with you during the month for the rest of your posts. Congratulations on your MG book.

    I am on the blogger/blogspot platform so I know from past experience that not many WP bloggers visit my blog. I have a WP blog just for commenting and this year I think even that may be a problem because now I’m getting inundated with emails that I need to change my “about me,” page. I don’t even have an “About me,” page. I don’t even really have a WP blog. I just did that so I could log into the WP commenting platform past year for the A to Z challenge. I think I just created more chaos for myself.

    I’m number 243 on the theme reveal list, but it keeps changing so here it the link to my theme reveal.

    Take care and I will see you more this month.

    Melissa Sugar
    Twitter @msugar13

  10. This is hilarious – I think pinning a fish on someone’s back could be a fun game.

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