Forget Easter Eggs. Here in France you’ll find chocolate hens, rabbits and bells instead – and of course chocolate fish. But why?
Well, these poissons d’avril (April fish) swim into the picture because of April Fool’s Day, which is usually very close to Easter. The tradition on the 1st of April is for children to stick paper fish onto people’s backs without them realising, then run away yelling ‘poisson d’avril’, pretty much the equivalent of ‘April Fool’! The ‘victim’ is meant to give the trickster a friture, a small chocolate fish.
It’s not quite clear how the whole poisson d’avril thing began. Some sources say it began with a silly fish trick when someone would be sent to market to buy an out-of-season freshwater fish, and make themselves look very foolish to the fishmonger. You really would be considered a nitwit in France if you didn’t know what fish, or other food, was seasonal.
Other sources think the poisson element is a corruption of the passion associated with Easter. Still others think it links with the opening of the fishing season when you weren’t likely to catch anything much. Who knows for sure?
The chocolate fish range from tiny friture (fish fry) to large, elaborate, multi-coloured chocolate creations, some hollow and others stuffed with sweets. Wonderful!
Just a few words about the chocolate bells, which might have struck you as unusual too. Legend has it that the church bells fly from France to the Pope in Rome on Good Friday, taking with them everyone’s sadness at Christ’s crucifixion. They return on Easter Day, full of happiness, and leave chocolate treats for children in nests in the garden. Sounds fishy? Maybe, but how else can you explain why French church bells never ring between Maundy Thursday and Easter Day?
Have a happy Easter.