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.

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