Just why do we have Father’s Day?
Around 80% of all the world’s countries recognise a Father’s Day celebration of some description. Many of us from the Western world have the notion that the premise of the day is a relatively recent American creation. Has it been fashioned by clever marketing men to generate yet another round of rampant spending by the gullible masses? Some might take the view, and it’s hard to argue against the notion being partially right. However, it’s definitely not the whole picture! The observation of a special day for fathers has a much longer and more colourful history than we might suppose.
St. Joseph’s Day
In Europe’s Catholic countries, Father’s Day has been celebrated on 19 March (St. Joseph’s Day or the Feast of St. Joseph) since the beginning 15th century. An initiative of the Franciscans, the celebration was taken then by the Spanish and Portuguese to Latin America in the 16th century. It is still very much celebrated there on 19 March. However, some 90 countries have followed America’s lead and celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June. There are also some 40 countries that celebrated their own Father’s Day, following neither the American or European conventions.
The inspiration for the American version of Father’s Day is said to have arisen from Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington. In 1909, Dodd attended the newly recognised Mother’s Day celebration in church. She decided that it was only fair that fathers were similarly acknowledged by setting aside a special day for them too. Her father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, had singlehandedly raised Sonora from birth, along with her other five siblings.
The following year, Dodd pushed for a Father’s Day celebration to be held in Spokane on 5 June. The date just happened to be her father’s birthday. However, the city’s mayor needed more time to arrange things and delayed the event by two weeks. Hence, the first Father’s Day in America was celebrated on 19 June 1910.
At this inaugural celebration, girls and young women handed out red roses to their fathers during a church service. Other attendees were encouraged to pin on a rose in honour of their own fathers. Red roses recognised the living, while white was used in memory of the deceased. On the day, Dodd and her young son went by a horse-drawn carriage through the city, handing out roses and gifts to house-bound fathers.
After the 1910 Spokane celebration, Father’s Day steadily gained popularity. In 1913, a bill to give national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak at a Father’s Day celebration. He was in favour of making it an officially recognised federal holiday but Congress resisted. In 1924, US President Calvin Coolidge endorsed the idea that the day should be observed throughout the entire nation. However, he did not go as far as issuing a national decree.
In 1957, Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith again pressed for official recognition of the day. Finally, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a presidential proclamation, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. In 1972, President Richard Nixon issued a decree making Father’s Day a permanent national holiday.
A Recent Event
In the UK, Father’s Day does not have a long tradition. It only entered British popular culture in the period that followed the Second World War. However, the notion of Father’s Day, as in a number of other countries, did not have an easy ride in the UK. The day was initially derided by many as just another blatant gimmick to sell more cards and gifts. However, over time attitudes have changed and the day seems to gain more popularity with each passing year. In 2019, the total UK Father’s Day spending was estimated at some £635 million (US$800 million). In America, the same Father’s Day spending hit a record US$16 billion.
Header image credit: 4 PM production/Shutterstock.com