HAPPY APRIL FISH DAY! ~ THE FRENCH VERSION OF APRIL FOOLS DAY
According to the website, “Excerpts from the Anonymous Breaux Manuscript (1840-1901)’ Early Louisiana French Life and Folklore. Excerpts from The Anonymous Breaux Manuscript, translated by George Reinecke.
Editor’s Note: This article is posted in collaboration with the Louisiana Folklore Society. In 1926, a manuscript account of the customs, culture, and speech of the late 19th century Acadians in South Louisiana was left to the Louisiana State Museum. The manuscript, written in French, was in the possession of Judge Joseph Arsenne Breaux, a former Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, at the time of his death. Written anonymously and completed 1901, it was a recording of Cajun folkways, life, and character as remembered by the author from as early as the 1840s. It came to be known as the Breaux Manuscript, and internal evidence suggests that the author was probably Judge Breaux himself, a native of Iberville Parish who later lived in the Attakapas District. The manuscript was edited and published by Professor Jay K. Ditchy of Tulane University under the title Les Acadiens Louisianais et leur parler(Paris, 1932). In 1966, when the original manuscript had been lost, George F. Reinecke, then Professor of English at University of New Orleans and Editor of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, translated and edited the portions of Ditchy’s edition that dealt with folklore and folklife. In order to make these valuable materials more readily available, Professor Reinecke obtained the necessary permissions and rights from the Ditchy estate for the Louisiana Folklore Society to publish the Reinecke translation as “Early Louisiana French Life and Folklore,” a special issue of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany (Volume II, 1966). Notes in brackets [ —R.] are by Dr. Reinecke. Dr. Marcia Gaudet, Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Editor of theLouisiana Folklore Miscellany 1995-99, arranged to have it re-published in the 1999 Houma Courier Special Edition for the Congrès Mondial Acadien. The Houma Courier edition was edited by Dr. Reinecke’s son, Fred Reinecke.”
Bottom Line, Judge Breaux’s document states:
“The Poisson d’Avril or April Fish: The first day of April is dedicated to mystifications of all sorts, to pretended gifts, false news, false joys, false alarms. People are sent to houses to which they have not been invited; everybody looks for dupes, but at the same time remains on guard lest despite precautions he himself be taken in.”
It is no coincidence that 1900 Louisiana Cajuns celebrated April first just as their ancestors did in France. On the 1st of April, I recall the day of everyone needing to pay attention to avoid being the victim of practical jokes and general foolishness. It is the ideal day for children (and grown-ups alike!) to tell funny jokes to those around them, including family members, friends, teachers, neighbors, colleagues at work, etc. The frenzied chaos that ensued was electric with mischief!
In France, April Fools’ Day is known for the “poisson d’avril” (April Fish) which dates back to 1564. The origin of the April Fish in France is quite obscure, maybe it was reminiscent of the ichtus used by Christians in the Roman era. French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying “Poisson d’Avril” when the prank is discovered.
While it is not clear of the origins of fish being associated with April 1, many think the correlation is related to zodiac sign of Pisces (a fish), which falls near April.”
The most accepted explanation of this event traces back to 16th century France. Up until 1564, the accepted calendar was the Julian calendar, which observed the beginning of the New Year around April. According to “The Oxford Companion to the Year, “King Charles IX then declared that France would begin using the Gregorian calendar, which shifted New Year’s Day to January 1. Those who disagreed with the King found themselves the butt of jokes and harassed for celebrating the first day of the year on the “wrong” day.
Looking on YouTube, one can find many examples of “April Fish Day”. Here are a few (caution, some have strong language):
So, if you’re from Louisiana or Canada, or perhaps France, do you have special memories of “April Fish Day”? I’d love to hear them!