April Fool’s Day in France

By Liz Hurst

If you’re like me and spend most of the short winters here in the Pyrénées-Orientales longing for the sun to grow warm enough to drag out the sun lounger and treat yourself to some much-needed vitamin D, then you can relax. Springtime is here!
With only a couple of days since the vernal equinox (at the time of writing), there is a feeling that the world is coming alive once again, as communes all over the P-O gradually start emerging from the quiet winter period and start to prepare for the busy tourist season ahead.

Cherry Blossom

Of course, this also means that the day of jokes and pranks known in the UK and US as April Fools’ Day is upon us.

But how much do you know about its origins in France?

Legend has it that, here in France, King Charles IX (1550-1574) was taking a tour around the different regions of his kingdom and discovered that not all of them marked the new calendar year on the same date. Some of his subjects were found to celebrate the new year on 25th December, and a few the following week, on 1st January as we do today. A significant number, however, had a week of festivities commencing on 25th March and culminating on 1st April.

Thinking this situation to be absurd – and who can blame him? ¬– the king issued a royal edict to standardise the new year, declaring it should be 1st January across all the lands. The proclamation was made on 9th August 1564 in Roussillon, thus becoming known as the Edict of Roussillon, and applied from 1st January 1567 onwards

As you can imagine, not everyone was entirely happy about this significant change in their lives. Some folk even ignored the edict altogether, preferring to continue their usual celebrations on 1st April, just as they had always done. But those who had embraced the new calendar began to mock their more reluctant friends and neighbours, even going as far as playing pranks on them. Thus, it is alleged, the tradition was born.

In France, the tradition is known as le poisson d’avril, and it is thought that this refers to the fact that 1st April falls during Lent, a period of religious observance for Christians.

During the time of King Charles IX, the Catholic Church expected followers to fast and abstain from eating meat during Lent, although fish was permitted. Gifts given to celebrate the new year on 1st April, therefore, would often have featured fish.

Today, younger schoolchildren throughout France are encouraged to colour in paper fish, the idea being that some hapless parent will become their poisson d’avril, when they discover a paper fish has been attached to their back

The French media have even joined in the fun. Back in 1986, Le Parisien published an article informing readers that the Eiffel Tower was moving to Marne-la-Vallée, on the site of what is now Disneyland Paris. More recently, in 2020, some French media announced that the Tour de France was being held in South Korea that year, as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.

Whatever you’re doing this 1st April, enjoy the spring sunshine and perhaps look out for fish-shaped products in some of the bakeries.

Finally, err… be sure to watch your back!

Making your novel a reality

writer Elizabeth M Hurst

Do you have a great idea, but don’t know how to put pen to paper?Liz Hurst runs a professional freelance English editing business, working for publishers and independent authors. writes and publishes her  own novels, with three books released (read a review here) and a multi-title series in the planning stages. and gives  creative writing lectures, one-on-one mentoring and training  tailored to your requirements.

Want to find out more! 

Email Liz at lizhurstauthor@gmail.com or find her on  FacebookTwitterInstagram or her website. 

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