You’ll see plenty of fish in France this Friday, and not just on the hooks of Angling Lines’ clients!
Friday is 1st April, the day of the poisson d’avril (April fish). Forget telling people their shoelaces are undone. The aim of the French version of April Fool’s Day is to stick a fish on someone’s back without that person noticing. Not a real fish, mind. Paper, card or fabric fish are the sort to use, and we’ve discovered by trial and error that the best ‘sticking’ method is Velcro. This year youngest son Ruadhrí cut out fish from material scraps and I sewed a small square of Velcro onto each one. We’ve created the ultimate poisson d’avril we reckon! Admittedly, they’re not too good on shiny coats, but work a treat on jumpers.
Where did this tradition come from? There are several explanations.
One is that it all began with a silly fish trick. Someone would be sent to the market to buy an out-of-season fish, which made them look really foolish. Even babies in food-focussed France know what food is in season when!
Another idea is that the ‘poisson’ element is a corruption of ‘passion’ which is associated with Easter.
And yet another concerns people throwing dead herrings into the river for rookie fishermen to catch. But the most persuasive explanation goes back to the 16th century. The New Year used to begin at Easter, often around the beginning of April. However, in 1564 King Charles IX changed it to 1st January, because when you’re king you can do that kind of thing. But in some areas the tradition of giving New Year’s presents around 1st April lingered, and because it was only the ‘false’ New Year, they gave ‘false’ presents i.e. they played tricks instead!
It doesn’t really matter how it all began anyway. It’s a fun time for kids, especially as adults are meant to reward them with a chocolate fish for each fish that ends up on their backs. You can buy bags of small chocolate fish in the shops to use – a different sort of French fry!
Daughter Caitlín tells me that they have pastry poissons d’avril for lunch at lycée on 1st April. These are puff pastry fish with chocolate inside them. Puff pastry is way beyond my baking capabilities, so I’ve settled for making festive fishy biscuits for us instead. With help from Ruadhrí of course.