Two years ago on the first of April, my day started with attempting to daringly participate (my target was my boss) in the poisson d’avril, or April Fools day in France.
A Little Context
The tradition of April Fools day in France is said to have started in 1565. The French king, Charles IX, decided that the new year should commence on the 1st of January (to mark the longer days) rather than the end of March/1st of April (the beginning of Spring). Apparently, many people in France weren’t aware that the date had been changed. They were, therefore, prime candidates for pranks and well-meaning hoaxes. The previous celebration of the New Year often included edible gifts. As the beginning of spring was still during lent, eating meat was forbidden. However, fish was a common gift. This is one theory that explains the giving of fishy inspired objects. Or the modern equivalent of sticking a paper cutout resembling a fish on someone’s back.
At the turn of the 20th century, it was a custom in France to send postcards for the Poisson d’Avril. The first of April came to be celebrated as a holiday of love and friendship. The giving of fish, even if it’s a prank, is a symbol of that affection.
I’ve included here some of the lovely and awkward postcards I’ve found at local markets. Enjoy!
An example of fish offering heartfelt well wishes throughout the year…
For more awkward and wonderful vintage French postcards: Easter in Provence
If you’re curious about other odd fish, see The Sardine that Blocked the Port of Marseille.