April Fools’ Day, the original French New Year

The French history behind April Fools’ Day

The beginnings of what we now know as April Fools’ Day is believed to trace all the way back to the 16th century France.  During this period King Charles IX moved the country from the Roman to the Gregorian calendar.  Prior to this transition, New Year’s was celebrated at the end of March.

Those who were slow to learn of the new New Year’s date (and many who ignored or protested the change), continued celebrating the new year around April 1st. These resistors became “the fools” and had jokes played on them.

Poisson d’Avril!

The French name for April Fools’, Poisson d’ Avril, dates back to one of the first pranks played on the day.  A runner was sent to the market to retrieve fish on April 1st.  Fish season ended in March, so when the runner returned tired and empty handed, he became the April fish.

The April fish tradition in France continues today – children and pranksters spend the day trying to stick paper fish to their friends’ (and teachers’ !) backs unnoticed.  When they succeed with the prank, they shout “Poisson d’Avril!” with glee. You’ll also find wonderful fish-shaped chocolates and pâtisseries all over France in celebration of the day.

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