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"Poisson d'avril!": the origin of the expression

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

What is "April Fools' Day" in France? April 1st is a day of humor and mischief where every year, it is tradition to make jokes and pranks on this day. But do you know why?


The story goes that in 1564, King Charles IX implemented a reform of the calendar: he decided that the new year would start on January 1st, whereas previously, the new year was celebrated on April 1st.But the news didn't reach the ears of the entire French population and some weren't aware of this important change. So they continued to give gifts on April 1st. To mock them, some pranksters had the idea of giving them "gifts" that were a bit different, "joke gifts".The legend says that since then, it has become customary to make jokes and pranks on April 1st.



Why April 1st?


The story goes that in 1564, King Charles IX implemented a reform of the calendar: he decided that the new year would start on January 1st, whereas previously, the new year was celebrated on April 1st. But the news didn't reach the ears of the entire French population and some weren't aware of this important change. So they continued to give gifts on April 1st. To mock them, some pranksters had the idea of giving them "gifts" that were a bit different, "joke gifts". The legend says that since then, it has become customary to make jokes ("des blagues") and pranks ("des canulars, des farces") on April 1st.


Definition of « blague » (a joke) : Histoire plaisante imaginée pour amuser ou pour tromper. (Dictionnaire Larousse)


But why an "April fish"(un poisson d’avril)? 🐟


There are several hypotheses:


- The first one tells that in April fishing was forbidden in France so people "offered" a herring to fishermen or rather hung a herring on the back of fishermen. The tradition evolved and today we hang paper fish on the back of our friends to whom we make jokes.


- The second one has a more religious meaning: the fish was the symbol of Lent, a period during which it was forbidden to eat meat.


- Finally, the third one comes from the zodiac sign, Pisces being the last sign of winter (and April is the first month of spring). Others also say that discontented people threw fish at the king's head to show their dissatisfaction with the calendar change!


Nobody really knows the origin of this funny tradition!

Définition de « farce » (a prank) : Action destinée à faire rire aux dépens de quelqu’un. (Dictionnaire Larousse)


What do we do on April 1st?


In the early 20th century, the tradition was to send a card of April 1st to your loved ones to wish them love and happiness 🍀. Today, in school, children draw and color paper fish and discreetly hang them in the back of their classmates to make a joke.


As for adults, hoaxes are frequent. We see a lot of them on the internet, brands have fun publishing fake news on social networks, as April Fools' Day jokes.


And in your country, is there an April Fools' Day tradition? Tell us all in the comments!


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