April 1st is also a day of practical jokes and laughs here in France. The difference is that instead of a the usual North American tricks, like, say, telling someone they have a big meeting that morning when in fact they don’t – “April Fools!”, the French cut out paper fish and stick them onto the backs of unsuspecting friends. The friend then becomes “poisson d’avril,” hence the name “The Fish of April” for April Fool’s Day. Apparently, April Fools’ Day is an international phenomenon: A Polish friend once told me that on April 1st in Poland the joke is to throw cold water onto people in the morning to wake them up. Luckily, I live in France and only have to deal with paper fish. And even then it’s mostly French children who partake in the tradition, although bakeries and pastry shops get into the festive spirit by making a plethora of fish-shaped goodies.
I asked my husband where this traditional came from but much to my disappointment he said he had no idea. “That’s just what we do,” he said. So I had to look it up. I found the following interesting explanation on France Travel Guide.com:
“Although the origins of April Fools is obscure and debated, the most widely accepted explanation actually credits the “holiday” as starting in France. The most popular theory about the origin of April Fool’s Day involves the French calendar reform of the sixteenth century.
The theory goes like this: In 1564 King Charles XIV of France reformed the calendar, moving the start of the year from the end of March to January 1. However, in a time without trains, a reliable post system or the internet, news often traveled slow and the uneducated, lower class people in rural France were the last to hear of and accept the new calendar. Those who failed to keep up with the change or who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st, had jokes played on them. Pranksters would surreptitiously stick paper fish to their backs. The victims of this prank were thus called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish—which, to this day, remains the French term for April Fools—and so the tradition was born.
While it is not clear of the origins of fish being associated with April 1, many think the correlation is related to zodiac sign of Pisces (a fish), which falls near April.”
Given that I don’t yet have any little French children running around my house, my husband and I spent the afternoon in a rather more relaxed manner. We took a lovely stroll through the Bois de Boulogne. I love this particular park in Paris, which the French call a forest, for its lakes where children sail miniature boats, for the couples in the rented row boats slipping through the water surrounded by swans and for the little bloom-covered bridges connecting the small islands. We, over here in Paris, are very lucky indeed for we are heading into our third consecutive week of breathtaking weather, the kind where the sun peeks out of a crystal blue sky and a slight fresh breeze glides through the air. It’s my absolute favorite time of the year, especially in Paris!
Take a peek: