Each year, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June in many countries around the world including the UK. This year (2023) it will be celebrated on Sunday, 18 June. Father’s Day is a relatively modern occurrence, as it was only formalised as a national holiday in the US in 1972. However, we can in fact trace its origins back much further to the Middle Ages.
The earliest celebration
In the Catholic tradition, St Joseph, the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus, is recognised as the patron saint of fathers, and his feast day has been celebrated on 19 March since around 1508. This is viewed as the earliest celebration of Father’s Day. According to Christian belief, Joseph raised Jesus as his own son, and so he is looked upon as the ideal example of fatherhood for other men to aspire to. Today, many Catholic countries, particularly those in Latin America, still celebrate Father’s Day on 19 March.
The first modern recorded celebration of Father’s Day is thought to have taken place on 5 July 1908 in West Virginia, USA. This was when a memorial service was held in a local church for 360 men who had died the previous year during an explosion in a coal mine – 250 of whom were fathers. The event was the brainchild of local girl Grace Golden Clayton, whose own father reportedly died in the accident. However, it remained a one-off event.
A woman with a mission
A year later, in Spokane, Washington, a woman called Sonora Smart Dodd embarked on a mission to establish Father’s Day as a national holiday. As one of six children raised by a widowed father, she was inspired to campaign for a national day of celebration for dads everywhere. As a result of Sonora’s efforts, during which she petitioned her local community and government, Father’s Day was officially celebrated in Washington on 19 June 1910.
In 1924, US President Calvin Coolidge publicly offered his support to Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed legislation making it a formal national holiday.
Customs from around the world
In the UK, Father’s Day is traditionally celebrated by giving cards and presents to our fathers and the father figures in our lives. However, other countries around the world have different customs. In Thailand, Father’s Day is celebrated on 5 December, which is the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and it is customary for children to give canna lilies to their fathers and grandfathers.
In Germany, Father’s Day coincides with Ascension Day, on the 40th day after Easter on a Thursday in May. Celebrations involve beer drinking and specially decorated beer bikes or hand carts. In Mexico, Father’s Day is celebrated with an event called Carrera Dia Del Padre whereby families take part in a variety of different races, including a father and son race, and the event is followed by a carnival, with food and celebrations.
Although it is celebrated on different days and in different ways by various nations, Father’s Day will always be a special time in the lives of families across the world. How will you be celebrating?