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No. 195: Poisson d’Avril


If you happen to be in France on April 1, beware of the fish.  Yes indeed, if you let yourself be duped or tricked, you’re not just a fool, but you’re also a poisson d’avril, or an April fish.

The jury is still out as to why you are a fish en français instead of just a fool, but so far this morning, I’ve already seen a bus full of prankster in my ‘hood, and they were all quite fishy-looking.

Out early with Taz, I spied a group of grade school children bounding off their coach and making merry, gamely tumbling over each other while trying to pin cut out paper fish on each others’ backs. Despite their teachers’ stern disciplinary warnings, les enfants could not help themselves, as fiendish squawks of “Poisson d’Avril” escaped their mugs announcing their foolery to the passing tourists.

I’ve always wondered about April Fools’ Day. As far as I know it is the only holiday dedicated specifically to hoodwinking your gullible friends and unsuspecting family members. For me, the French-fish-thing adds a whole new dimension to this goofy day.

There are several theories about where the fish imagery came from in relation to the first day of April en France, and they go from the simple to the more complex:

  • The most basic theory is that “April fish” simply refers to a young fish, or those easily caught (in a hoax);
  • While others reason that as April 1 falls within the Lenten season, the fish depict Christ, who was sometimes represented as a fish in early Christian times.
  • Still others insist that it is only the pagan Zodiac sign of Pisces (also a fish) falling during the month of April, that has led to all this fishy trickery.
  • But the historians, well they pin it all on King Charles IX of France and his edict to reform the calendar system and move the start of the year from the first day of April to the first day of January. As the story goes, the masses were either uninformed or resistant to this change, and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1. Eventually they were mocked and made the butt of jokes by those who conformed to the new calendar. (Said jokes included: pretending to make a neighborly New Year’s calling on April 1 complete with a fresh Lenten fish to share, thus making a fool of those who accepted the gift and did not comply with the changing times and calendar.) In later centuries, this little joke changed to surreptitiously hooking a paper fish on the backs of those naive characters stubbornly hanging on to the past.


No matter the uncertainty behind all this French fishiness, there is one thing you can always be certain of in France. The French, God bless them all, cannot celebrate a holiday without some sort of beautiful and delicious food or pastry attached to it. The Poisson d’Avril is no exception. En ce moment, French pâtisseries, boulangeries, and chocolateries are currently filled to the brim with fish-themed and fish-shaped delights.

Hmmm…me thinks we might be having fish for dinner tonight…probably not salmon, but maybe something of the cocoa bean variety?


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