What do you call someone who’s fallen for a prank? In most English-speaking places, you’d probably just call them gullible. But in France, you might use the term poisson d’avril (“April fish.”) The centuries-old name is linked to a 1508 poem by Renaissance composer and writer Eloy d’Amerval, who used the phrase to describe the springtime spawn of fish as the easiest to catch; young and hungry April fish were considered more susceptible to hooks than older fish swimming around at other times of year. Today, celebrating “April fish” in France — as well as Belgium, Canada, and Italy — is akin to April Fools’ Day elsewhere, complete with pranks; one popular form of foolery includes taping paper fish on the backs of the unsuspecting.

While the first reference to poisson d’avril comes from d’Amerval’s poem, historians aren’t sure just how old the April Fools’ holiday is. It’s often linked to Hilaria, a festival celebrated by the ancient Romans and held at the end of March to commemorate the resurrection of the god Attis. Hilaria participants would disguise themselves and imitate others – sort of a mascaraed. Other theories suggest that April 1 trickery stems from switching to the Gregorian calendar. In 1564, the year French King Charles IX moved to standardize January 1 as the start of the new year. Despite the royal edict, some French people kept the traditional Julian new year which placed New Years the new year in late March to early April. These people were hence dubbed the “April fools.”

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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