Tuesday, 1 April 2014

poisson d'avril

In sixteenth-century France, the accepted calendar was the Julian Calendar and the start of the new year was observed on April the first. It was celebrated in much the same way as it is today with parties and dancing into the late hours of the night.

Then in 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world. King Charles IX then declared that France would begin using the Gregorian calendar, which shifted New Year's Day to January 1.

There were some people, however, who hadn't heard or didn't believe the change in the date, so they continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April the first. Others played tricks on them and called them "April fools."

Today in France, people who are fooled on the first of April are called Poisson d’avril, which literally means April fish. One hilarious (?!!) custom is to stick a cardboard fish on someone’s back. Wow. Watch out for that one. Very tricky.

Why a fish? There are various suggestions for this. The first of April coincides with Lent when the Church forbade Christians to eat meat. Fish was tolerated and was often used to as an offering or a meal on the April first new year. Another suggestion is that the sign of Pisces is represented by a fish and falls near April.

I chose to celebrate poisson d’avril day by holding the inaugural ‘a little bit of frenchiness in Abbotsford’ French class. A few friends had expressed interest in learning French. My first of April gift to them was to offer them some useful phrases, a taste of French, to start the Julian new year.

With a little (read great) help from my (French) friends, we had zones even. A slightly more advanced verb zone and a zone for the lovely ones who are just starting the journey of embracing the French. 

What I appreciate is how willing everyone was to enjoy the evening and the taste of French. 

We'll do it again. 

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