Poisson d’Avril from France

Originally posted on & updated on 27th March, 2024

Here is the latest piece from Beth in southwest France, all about April fools and it’s origins, and food, naturellement… just in time for Easter.

“Did you fall for an April’s Fool Day prank this year? It’s that month when pranksters come out of the woodwork and play practical jokes on one another for a wheeze. But if you thought it was a very English tradition, think again.

Poisson d’Avril History

April Fool’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. In France, the 1st of April is known as Poisson d’Avril. To find out where the tradition comes from, I went back in history to the sixteenth century and Pope Gregory’s calendar.

In 1564, King Charles IX signed the ‘Edict of Roussillon’, which moved the country from the Roman to the Gregorian calendar. Hitherto, New Year’s Day was celebrated on the 1st of April. As we all know, the French are an independent-minded lot, and many didn’t take kindly to this change.

For some time, through ignorance of the change or protest, several departments continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on or around the 1st of April. Those who had adapted to the new order ridiculed the others, playing tricks and calling them Poisson d’Avril (April fish). Why fish? There are several theories.

April 1st falls during lent, and fish would have been a fine New Year’s gift. Historically, fishing was banned in April because it is the breeding period. For a giggle, simple souls were sent to the market to buy fish, only to find none. And there are those who associate the tradition with its proximity to the Zodiac sign Pisces. It all seems a bit tenuous. Truth is, nobody really knows.

Fishy Jokes

Today, all sorts of practical jokes occur in France, though le poisson is still the favourite. Typically, children will cut out a paper fish and secretly stick it to their victim’s back. When it is discovered, cries of ‘Poisson d’Avril’ will be heard from the triumphant jokers.

To help celebrate this ancient tradition, fish-shaped pâtisseries, chocolates, gateaux and more are sold all over France, especially in our supermarkets. My favourite local store is Leclerc. For someone who has never been a keen shopper, buying my groceries is truly a wonderful experience. And there are several reasons why.

Food Shopping in France

The French take their food seriously. Very seriously. And they reflect this in most food stores. Cheese lovers are treated to not just one aisle of choices but multiple. Hundreds and hundreds of varieties are tantalisingly displayed. Fromage experts are on-hand to offer advice and tantalise customer taste buds with free samples. It’s almost impossible to leave without at least one cheesy purchase. It’s the same with wine.

I have no idea how many different vineyards are represented. But they run into the hundreds. These are the aisles where one finds French connoisseurs scrutinising a bottle label, pondering a vintage, harvest year, and wines grouped by appellation. Time stands still for these people.

I love my fruit ‘n’ veg, and I’m never disappointed. Many supermarkets sponsor local produce and it’s super-fresh. Much of the boucher meat is sourced from department-farmed stock, and our fish practically swims into the poissonnier. Each variety is carefully labelled so the customer knows exactly where it has been sourced.

As for bread, don’t get me started! Suffice to say that my shopping trolley is bulging after a weekly groceries visit. And at this time of year, well, of course, it has to include a chocolate poisson!”

For more friendly dog and France related stories, make sure you check Beths lovely books all about country living in southwest France, they’re amazing and on Amazon.  HAPPY EASTER!

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