If you’ve been in France (and in Belgium too) on April Fools’ Day, you might have noticed bakeries and candy shops filled with fish-formed food items. Sea-food at its finest. I remember my first April 1 in Brussels. There was a school down the road from our house and I noticed a few of the children had paper fish stuck to their backs. Not knowing much at that point, I chalked it up to some Belgian tradition I’d eventually learn. Turns out, the kids had been “fished.” The equivalent of a “kick me” sign I guess.
Anyway, if things seem a little ‘fishy’ today, now you know why.
What's the history of this fishy tradition?
The most current story goes that the tradition was born in France in the 16th century when king Charles IX decided that the first of the year would no longer begin on April 1 but on January 1. A change that also shifted the exchange of gifts to New Year’s Day. Holdouts resisted and still offered a present on April 1, however over time the gifts transformed into gag or joke gifts, then into plots to trick others.
The choice of the "poisson”, the fish, is said to be tied to Lent. Since April 1 usually fell during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, when was prohibited among devout Christians, people offered fish. When the jokes developed, one of the most common gag gifts was said to be a "faux" fish. Eh Voila, Le Poisson d’Avril was born.