Today is April Fool’s Day and legend says its origins date back to the Middle Ages in France over a calendar change.

At that time, the New Year was celebrated in late March with a holiday that lasted until April 1. But in 1564, King Charles the IX switched France from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the new year began several months earlier than people were accustomed to.

Many people who accepted the new calendar began to mock those who lagged behind. They were made fun of and called “fools” by the more progressive members of French society who gave them silly presents and played tricks on them on April 1.

The day became ever associated with a day of pranks, notably, putting a dead fish on the backs of friends.

Today, French children still place a colorful fish-shaped cut out on as many adult’s backs as possible and run away yelling “poisson d’avril” – or April Fish.

So how did the fish angle come about?

Some say the tradition began because fishing was forbidden in April in France when fish were spawning. It became a joke to send unsuspecting people to market to buy fish when it was not in season.  Only a “fool” would not know what food items were available at any given time of year.

Some April 1 fans even took things a little bit farther, by throwing dried herring into streams or rivers and crying out, “Poisson d’avril!”

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Others claim the origins go back to Biblical times, when Noah sent out a dove from the ark on April 1 before the flood waters had receded. That prompted the custom of sending people on foolish errands.

Today in France, along with slapping a paper fish on people’s backs,  a traditional treat is a chocolate ‘sardine’ in a silver wrapper, which looks much like the real thing.

The April Fish tradition also is celebrated in Italy, France, Belgium and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada.

Variations of April Fool’s day also occur in Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Israel, Lebanon, and of course, in the US.

Happy April and good fishing – and don’t be anyone’s fool.

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