Although we can’t be certain, we believe that April Fool’s Day dates back to 1534 when King Charles IX of France changed the calendar so the year would begin on January 1st rather than the traditional April 1st.
It goes without saying that this decision caused a lot of disagreement and controversy. Although the staunchest and most stubborn continued to celebrate “their New Year” on April 1st, others with more modern views decided to tease them with spurious gifts, so tricks and pranks began to appear to bolster those in the opposing camp. Among the latter were several village curés who did not approve of this manner of manipulating the calendar. Consequently, as around this date the fishing season was closed for spawning, some people made a habit of keeping the last fish they had caught and let it rot. Then, on the sly, they placed it on the doormat of the presbytery.
Others believed that the days surrounding the first of April marked the end of Lent when it was customary to give sweets to those they liked, while to the others they gave…a fish! Children got wrapped up in the game and made imitation fish which they gave to their friends and relatives as jokes.
This tradition solidly established itself in Québec, and as of 1749, there were stories of “running after the April fish”. Indeed, children ran in all directions pinning paper fish on people’s backs, including their parents and teachers. Those who were easily duped were compared to young fish in small streams, caught without effort.
Some like to think of April 1st as an important holiday for breaking up the monotony of a long winter and its accompanying depression. It’s a day for jokes and pranks with laughter guaranteed. In this context, television and other local media broadcast several hoaxes: France sold the islands of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon to Canada in exchange for the province of Newfoundland; the Confederation Bridge collapsed; Ontario was handed over to the United States; the St Lawrence River would soon run dry… and so on. What’s more, (and of course this is true) Elvis is walking around incognito in Old Québec.
I personally like to believe the legend that says a girl born on April 1st will become a quiet and peaceful woman. Her calmness and silence, following the example of a fish, will be widely acknowledged and appreciated, because unlike other women, she will know how to keep a secret…
[Translated by Susan Spier]