Poisson d'Avril - April Fool's Day in France

International April Fools Day CustomsPoisson d'Avril

Will and Guy love variety, hence we have collected Poisson d'Avril, Hunt-the-Gowk, Pesce d'Aprile and other international April Fools Day jokes.

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The French and Poisson d'AvrilPoisson d'Avril

The French have their own idiosyncratic take on April Fool's day with Poisson d'Avril.  You may have guessed that poisson means fish, and this theme is taken up by French schoolboys who pin paper fish on their classmates. 

It's not straightforward getting the Poisson d'Avril to stick on the victim's back.  If you make a fish and sew on a safety pin it's not easy to get people to sit still while you unobtrusively attach the poisson.  Velcro is good, but there never seems to be any around just when you need it.

As is so often the case with April Fool's Day, the precise derivation of Poisson d'Avril is both obscure and disputed.  Perhaps it's just because fish are considered stupid and easy to catch.  A more erudite origin of Poisson d'Avril claims that those born under the star sign Pisces (the fish) forget that their sign ends on March 20th.

The Eiffel Tower Spoof

One joke Will and Guy particularly enjoyed hearing about in 2007 was of a prank played by a newscaster on French television.  He explained, in a serious voice, how the third level of the Eiffel Tower in Paris had been removed so that repairs might be carried out. Hundreds flocked to the tower only to find they had been victims of a clever joke.Eiffel Tower Hoax

Footnote 1:
Amazing how history repeats itself.  In 1986 it was reported that the Eiffel Tower was to be dismantled. This international symbol of French culture would then be reconstructed in the new Euro Disney theme park being built, at the time, to the east of Paris.

Footnote 2:
Are the French particularly gullible when it comes to their beloved Eiffel tower?  Will and Guy ask because in 1925 Victor Lustig conned a scrap dealer that he could sell him the Eiffel tower.  Ah yes the name of Victor Lustig's 'mark'?  Monsieur Poisson.

Poisson d'Avril is also a French comedy film from 1954 (April Fish)

French Patisseries

Naturally, writes Will, as someone who enjoys France in large part because of all the amazing food, my personal favourite part about Poisson d'Avril are the plethora of bakeries and "chocolatiers" that make fish-shaped French pastries and chocolates in honour of the holiday.

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Poisson d'Avril Granache

These are very traditional *ganache-filled chocolate "sardines"

*a chocolate glaze

Origin of Poisson d'Avril

In 16th-century France people celebrated New Year's Day on March 25, this was neatly coincided with the beginning of spring.  In this festivity the French partied until April 1.  Then in 1564, Pope Gregory reformed the calendar and the good catholic King Charles IX proclaimed that New Year's Day should be celebrated on January 1st instead of March.

Some of the French resented the change and continued to celebrate New Year from March 25 to April 1. However, the more adaptable French mocked the revelers by sending them foolish gifts and invitations to nonexistent parties.

The victim of an April Fools' Day  prank was called a "poisson d'Avril," or an "April fish," because this corresponded to the sign of Pisces.  

Pesce d'Aprile in Italy

The traditional April Fool's trick (Pesce d'Aprile) in Italy consists of a kid surreptitiously attaching a paper cut-out of a pesciolino (small fish) to the back of a school mate - similar to Poisson de Avril in France.  Then his friends jokingly ask: L'hai visto?-Chi?-Il pesce d'Aprile! (Have you seen the April Fool!) and makes derisive comments about the victim.

The more sophisticated adult pranks are classics such as rumors that money is being give out: "Si distribuiscono soldi a tutti, andate in via Tal dei Tali al numero..."

Each year there are new pranks which tricks gullible individuals.  The Italian media report them on April 2nd and ranks the migliori pesci d'Aprile.  One Italian speciality is a recipe for ravioli al pesce d'aprile to celebrate April 1st.

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Sauf en Laisse - Except on a Leash!

Sauf en laisse - Except on a leash

Germans Have Aprilscherz

Aprilscherz is the German for April prank.

Hunt-the-Gowk Day in Scotland

Guy's uncle Jimmy once told him that his grandfather enjoyed playing a prank called Hunt-the-Gowk on April the 1st.  It seems "gowk*" is Scots for fool, however, none of Jimmy's children remember this term and we often wonder if uncle Jimmy just made up this phrase. 

Although the way uncle Jimmy told the tale, there seemed a grain of truth in the hoax.  What he said was he wrote a note asking for help, and gave it to the "gowk", and told him to take it to McTavish.  When McTavish read the note, he passed the victim to Rab Ferguson, and then on Ian Blair ... and so on and on until the gowk realised he had been sent on a fool's errand.

*Gowk is also Celtic for cuckoo.  Hence a person who is a bit cuckoo or foolish.

The Spanish Hold a Fools Day in DecemberPoisson d'Avril

In Spanish-speaking countries, youngsters carry out pranks on 28th December, the Day of the Holy Innocents or Dia de los Santos Inocentes.   This practice is similar to the English All Fools Day on April 1st. 

Dia de los Santos Inocentes - Day of the Holy Innocents is a religious holiday named in honour of the young children who were slaughtered by order of King Herod around the time of Jesus' birth. These young victims were called Santos Inocentes or "Holy Innocents" because they were too young and innocent to have committed any sins.

Although the feast remains on the Catholic Liturgical calendar, today the religious aspect has been almost forgotten and the pranks that became popular during the Middle Ages have been combined with winter festivities of pagan origin. Similar to Halloween, groups of children in towns across Spain used to go from house to house asking for candy or cookies, making noise with spoons and anise bottles, and singing traditional Christmas songs.

The Celebrations Today

Today most Spanish children play simple pranks like putting salt in the sugar bowl or sticking paper cut-outs on people's backs. These little practical jokes are called Inocentadas.

However, unusual celebrations that we have come across, stemming from ancient traditions, continue to be held, such as the "Flour Battle" that takes place in the streets of Ibi, Valencia and the "Crazy People's Dance" in Jalance, also in Valencia.

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Russian April Fool Hoax

The regional government in the Ulyanovsk* region of Russia decreed that maternity wards should play the national anthem every time a baby was born.  The idea was to promote patriotism.  This seems to be true.

Will and Guy unearthed another report that each on 12th September, married men in Ulyanovsk  are given an afternoon off work to go home with their wives and take part in the "Give birth to a patriot" scheme.  Couples who produce a baby on Independence Day, nine months later, are given prizes of TVs and fridges.  We cannot be sure, but this seems to be a hoax.

* Ulyanovsk was named after Lenin, whose real name was Ulyanov.

Poor Robin's Almanac [1790]*

The first of April, some do say, April The 1st
Is set apart for All Fools' Day.
But why the people call it so,
Nor I, nor they themselves do know.
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.

* Poor Robin's Almanac was a British almanac. It was published from circa 1663 until 1828. The poet Robert Herrick is thought to have established it.

Sago Tree

We have a local counterpart of the spaghetti joke.  It has to do with a local refreshment ingredient called sago (balled tapioca), which when sweetened with arnibal (sugar cane syrup) and combined with gulaman (gelatine), results is a very refreshing drink.

When we ask school-kids, or even adults: "Have you seen a sago tree?" 

They experience a temporary brain crash, before they ask you: "Is there really one?"

Footnote:
Item kindly sent in by Roger M.  Please send us your Poisson d'Avril jokes

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