On July 5, 1908, a Sunday, a West Virginia church sponsored what historians believe was the first event in the United States held specifically to honor fathers. However, this was not exactly a happy occasion; the minister’s sermon memorialized the 362 men—many of them fathers—who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines.
It would take several years for Father’s Day to become the upbeat and celebratory day we know today.
In 1910, a Spokane, Wash., woman, named Sonora Smart Dodd, lobbied to establish a state-sanctioned Father’s Day, to be held on her beloved father’s birthday, June 5.
Dodd, one of six children raised by her widower father, went to local churches, the YMCA, the Spokane Ministerial Alliance, shopkeepers, and government officials to drum up support for her idea.
She was successful, and Washington State celebrated its first Father’s Day that same year. It wasn’t held on her father’s birthday, though, but on the 19th of June.
Gradually, the concept of a Father’s Day celebration spread from state to state. On June 19, 1916, the idea received recognition from the White House. President Woodrow Wilson honored fathers by using telegraph signals in Washington, D.C. to unfurl a flag in Spokane.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge suggested the third Sunday in June of that year be recognized as a day to honor fathers and encouraged states to do the same.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to combine Mother’s Day—a federal holiday held on the third Sunday of May since 1914—and Father’s Day, which was still an unofficial event, into a single commemoration called Parents’ Day. During those years, pro-Parents’ Day groups rallied for their cause on Mother’s Day in New York City’s Central Park. The Great Depression ended this effort to combine, as well as de-commercialize, the holidays, as struggling retailers and advertisers saw a potential for a boost in sales. To this end, they marketed Father’s Day as a “second Christmas for men.”
Merchants promoted the purchase of gifts for dads, such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards.
When the United States entered World War II, advertisers began spreading the idea that celebrating Father’s Day honored men serving as soldiers and supported the war effort. By the end of the war, Father’s Day was still not a federal holiday, but it was a national institution.
Congress recognized Father’s Day in 1956 with the passage of a joint resolution. Ten years later, President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation calling for the third Sunday in June to be recognized as Father’s Day. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon permanently established Father’s Day as a federally recognized holiday.
The United States isn’t the only country celebrating Father’s Day. France also holds “La Fete des Peres” on the third Sunday in June. So does Mexico, where “El Dia del Padre” means gifts for dads and big family dinners. A major 21K race in Mexico City is also held in honor of fathers.
Australians celebrate the occasion on the first Sunday in September. In Italy, Spain, and Portugal, dads are honored on St. Joseph’s Day, a traditional Catholic holiday that falls on March 19.
In Nepal, religious rituals honoring fathers are celebrated in late summer. People spend time with their dads, giving gifts and eating special meals. If the father is deceased, family members often visit holy places to perform rituals.
Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day on February 23. Parades are held honoring members of the armed forces, and women recognize the men in their lives, including fathers, with small gifts.
In Germany, Father’s Day takes place on Ascension Day, the 40th day of the Easter season. Called “Vatertag,” “Mannertag,” or “Herrentag,” depending on the region, the day often involves men dressing up in unusual outfits and pulling wagons full of liquor. It’s quite likely that some drinking of that liquor follows the thirsty work of wagon-pulling!
This year in the United States, Father’s Day occurs on June 21. We hope that all of you dads—and father figures—have a wonderful day. You deserve it! MSN