A long poem published in 1508 by a French choirmaster, Eloy d'Amerval, has caught the eye of historians of April Fool's Day because the text includes the phrase "poisson d'Avril," which is the French term for an "April Fool." Does this indicate that the custom of April Fool's Day was already established in France at the beginning of the 1500s?
Probably not. Or, at least, we can't conclude that from d'Amerval's poem, because the manner in which he used the phrase "poisson d'Avril" doesn't indicate that he associated the term with folly or April 1. Instead, for him it seemed to be a slang term for a pimp or matchmaker. Etymologists suggest that this was, in fact, the original meaning of the term, and that it only evolved to mean an "April Fool" in the 17th century.
A popular legend holds that April Fool's Day began in 1564 when the 14-year-old King Charles IX of France passed the Edict of Roussillon
, decreeing that henceforth the year would begin on January 1, instead of April 1. Supposedly some people failed to hear about the change and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1, causing people to make fun of them and play pranks on them. In this way, they became the first April fools.
The existence of references to April Fool's Day before 1564 suggests that this cannot have been the origin of the celebration. But also, the story is incorrect in that April 1 was not considered the start of the year in any part of France before 1564. The year began on different days in different parts of the country (March 25, March 1, Easter, or January 1). One of the reasons for the reform was to impose a single calendrical system throughout the entire country.
During the Thirty Years' War, the Duke of Lorraine
and his wife were held as prisoners within the walls of Nancy, the capital city of Lorraine, at the orders of the King of France. But on April 1, 1634, the Duke and Duchess escaped by disguising themselves as peasants and walking out through the front gate of the city. Their escape was almost foiled when a peasant recognized them and ran to tell a soldier, who communicated the news to his commanding officer. However, it being April 1st, the officer thought he was being made an April Fool (or a Poisson d'Avril, as the French say) and didn't believe the report. By the time the French realized the report of the escape wasn't a joke, the Duke and Duchess were too far away to be overtaken.
The Geneva Tribune
reported that on April 1 a French aviator flying over a German camp dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb. The German soldiers immediately scattered in all directions, but no explosion followed. After some time, the soldiers crept back and gingerly approached the bomb. They discovered that it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, "April Fool!" [The Atlanta Constitution
, Aug 2, 1915.]
A prankster started a rumor alleging that a peace treaty ending World War I had been signed. According to the Associated Press: "The report rapidly spread over all Paris and the telephone wires to the American headquarters in the hotel de Crillon became hot with inquiries as to the truth of the rumor. It did not take long however, for inquiries to realize the character of the report when they were reminded that today was April 1st." The Treaty of Versailles, which marked the formal end of the war, was signed on June 28, 1919. [Daily Northwestern
, Apr 1, 1919.]
, a humorous Parisian newspaper, laid a trap for André Perate, curator of the Versailles Palace. They sent him a letter, using the aristocratic signature "Madame de Mesnil-Heurteloup," offering to donate a "double decimeter measure in rosewood" once used by Mme. de Pompadour. They suggested it could be placed in the recently reopened Pompadour apartments in Versailles.
The newspaper later reproduced a facsimile of the curator's reply, noting that he had failed to realize that Mme. Pompadour died thirty years before the metric system was invented. They suggested that they might seek space in French museums "for Napoleon's automobile, a bracelet worn by the Venus de Milo, and an eyeglass belonging to Victory of Samothrace."
The French government received a message from Athens, Greece, sent via official channels, announcing that three prominent Parisian critics of Catholicism had been awarded the Order of the Redeemer, the highest decoration awarded by the Greek government. The decoration is considered a high honor among Catholics, since it symbolizes the rebirth of the Greek nation through divine assistance. The three men who supposedly had been awarded the medal were M. Ferdinand Buisson and M. Aulard of the Sorbonne, and M. Victor Basch of the University of Paris. In reality, the decorations had been conferred on less controversial figures. It was not known who had found a way to use the Greek government to play such a joke. Ferdinand Buisson was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. [The Washington Post
, Apr 19, 1925.]
A Parisian boy pins a paper fish onto the back of a police officer at Porte Saint Denis. Pinning a paper fish (un poisson d'Avril) onto a victim's back was, for centuries, considered to be the traditional April Fool's prank in France, perpetrated primarily by young boys.
The Vichy government in France arrested 13 people on the charge of participating in a "Communist April Fool day plot" to rename streets in Marseille after the exiled Communist leader Maurice Thorez
. The police made the arrests after finding a large quantity of signs reading "Maurice Thorez Street" (or "Rue Maurice Thorez") designed to be placed over the regular street signs in the city.
International Soundphoto distributed a photo of a flying bus swooping over the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. The photo ran in many papers, accompanied by the caption: "Well, Well, look how all those Parisians are being missed by the bus at Place de la Concorde. Anything can happen in the French capital on April Fool's day, they say, but it is suspected that some zany darkroom jokester had something to do with this." [Newsweek
- Apr 10, 1950.]
A few days before April 1st, an actress disappeared from Paris's Grand Guignol theater during a production of No Orchids for Miss Blandish
. The police launched a massive manhunt. But on the morning of April 1st, the actress walked into a police station, unhurt, claiming she had been kidnapped and imprisoned by "Puritans" for the past two days. The police were skeptical, and under interrogation the actress eventually admitted that her disappearance was an April Fool's Day publicity stunt engineered by the Grand Guignol's manager. The play being performed when she disappeared was, not coincidentally, about a woman who is kidnapped.
In honor of April Fool's Day, French fashion designer Jean Dessès
used photomontages to dress Parisian landmarks in his gowns. For instance, he outfitted a street lamp in sight of the Eiffel Tower in a softly tailored beige and brown wool suit and a brown felt hat.
The French newspaper L'Ardennais
reported that two giant helicopters were going to remove the Meuse River bridge at Montey-Notre-Dame and replace it with a new one. A crowd of over 2000 people assembled to witness the event. Eventually a loudspeaker announced that the bridge-removal operation had been delayed until April 1, 1968.
French state-run radio announced that European motorists would soon be required to drive on the left side of the road, in order to help British drivers when they joined the Common Market. Almost immediately the radio station began receiving hundreds of phone calls from enraged French motorists. As a result, the station quickly confessed that the story was a hoax.
newspaper reported that an agreement had been signed to take down the Eiffel Tower and move it to the new Euro Disney theme park being constructed east of Paris. Where the tower used to be, a 35,000-seat stadium would be built for the 1992 Olympic Games.
, the French Communist Party newspaper, reported that because Germans had no speed limit on their own motorways, the European Commission had therefore decided to allow German drivers to drive as fast as they wanted throughout other EC countries.
The Parisian Transport Authority (RATP) renamed three Paris metro stations, but only for the 24 hours of April 1st. Parmentier station became "Pomme de Terre" (potato). Madeleine station became "Marcel Proust," and Reuilly Diderot station became "Les Religieuses." At the stations, metro employees handed out potato chips, madeleines, and religieuses (a type of eclair). Tickets were also stamped with the shape of a fish (a "poisson d'avril" or "April fish" — the French equivalent of "April fool").
Unfortunately, many passengers became confused by the name changes and chaos ensued. Therefore, the stunt was never repeated.
The European Committee issued a communique in which it declared that it was banning single-shelled eggs, in order to prevent cracked eggs being found in food stores. The ban was a play on the French word "coque" which means both egg shell and ship's hull.
The French Museum of Air and Space announced on its website that Concorde was scheduled to return to the air for a special two-hour flight in June. The supersonic plane had not flown since 2003, but the museum explained that one of two Concordes given to it had been kept flight-ready. The announcement was picked up by the French news agency AFP, which later had to retract it when the museum admitted the news was a hoax. The museum explained that it perpetrated the hoax in order to publicize its hope that one day Concorde really would fly again.
The French postal service announced it was teaming with drone-manufacturer Parrot to experiment with the use of drones to deliver mail in Auvergne, in south central France. The new delivery service would be called Parrot Air Drone Postal. A team of 20 postal workers would control the drones via an app on their smart phones.
A number of American news sources, including the San Francisco Chronicle
and Business Insider
, reported the announcement as fact.
Television channel France 3
revealed that the French government planned to release giant pandas in the Pyrenees, as part of the continuing reintroduction of bears to the region. Negotiations with the Chinese government were ongoing, but it was hoped that the first panda pair could be introduced in the spring of 2014.
Of course, pandas eat mainly bamboo. This was seen as a positive, as it meant the pandas were unlikely to attack farm animals. However, bamboo is not found in the pyrenees. Therefore, the plan was to use a helicopter to fly several tons of bamboo to the pandas every week.
reported that a fisherman, Jean Bonnet, caught a bizarre creature that appeared to be a trout-pig hybrid while fishing in the Tet River in southeastern France.
It took him 51 minutes to reel it in, and as soon as it landed on the ground it attempted to burrow into the earth with its snout. Bonnet suspected the creature was the result of genetically modified corn being grown nearby.
Health authorities soon arrived to investigate, but by that time Bonnet had already grilled and eaten the trout-pig, which he described as "a treat."
French MP Jean-Frédéric Poisson (shown) proposed a law that would protect politicians with "aquatic animal surnames" from being ridiculed. ("Poisson" in French means "fish" — "poisson d'avril" is the equivalent of "April fool").
Fellow MPs Franck Marlin and Philippe Goujon backed the proposal. (Marlin and Goujon, or gudgeon, both being types of fish.) They said, "We other aquatic MPs are very concerned about the respect of biodiversity and anything said against us could reduce biodiversity." However, Jean-Marie Tétart objected, even though his last name means 'tadpole' in spoken French.
French station RTL
announced that Roselyne Bachelot, former French Minister for Health, would play a "Bond girl" in the next 007 movie alongside Daniel Craig, despite the fact that Bachelot was 66 years old. Apparently the production company in charge of casting was hoping, by choosing her, to appeal to a "more senior" audience in the next movie.