Today is the 1st of April and just like in many countries around the world, it’s the day of jokes, hoaxes and pranks. Newspapers and other media publish fake stories but the real speciality in France is the poisson d’avril.  This consists of sticking a paper fish on someone’s back and seeing how long they go without realising it.

Once the fish is discovered you shout “poisson d’avril”! Children adore trying to catch out their teachers if it falls on a school day or their parents when it’s a day at home.  My elder son has been sporting a fine specimen for a couple of hours as I write this, stuck on his back by his little brother completely unbeknownst to him.

poisson d'avril stuck on child's back

Accounts vary as to the origins of the jokes and the fish connection.  The theory with the most credence is that it arose out of a change in the calendar in the 1560s when King Charles IX ruled that the year would, from then onwards, begin on the 1st of January not the end of March as had been the case.

poisson d'avril on teacher's back at school event

The traditional gift-giving period at the start of the new year therefore changed from the beginning of April to the beginning of January, but there were those who found it hard to adapt to the new system and they were mocked by being given fake or joke presents on the 1st of April.

These presents were usually food related and as the date nearly always fell during lent when meat was forbidden, they often consisted of fish or pretend fish.

As for the jokes and hoaxes in the media, today I read a good one announcing a new law that texting in foreign languages would only be allowed up to 12% of any message.  Any text that went over the quota would be blocked.

With the Academie Française’s obsession with the purity of the French language and dislike of English words creeping into everyday usage such as “le week-end”, “le parking” and “email” it’s the sort of thing that could, just about, be believable and I was taken in for just a split second!

poisson davril

A very elaborate poisson d’avril made by my little son, stuck on JF’s back!

Is April 1st a day of pranks and jokes where you live?  I’d love to hear from you.

Related Reading:

September – c’est la rentrée

It’s the end of another school year

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Poisson dAvril 1st April traditions France

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