Father's Day

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Father's Day

Type of Holiday: Promotional
Date of Observation: Third Sunday in June
Where Celebrated: United States
Symbols and Customs: Necktie, Rose
Related Holidays: Mother's Day


The idea of setting aside a day especially for fathers was at least partially inspired by the success of MOTHER'S DAY, established in 1914. Sonora Smart Dodd from Spokane, Washington, was listening to a Mother's Day sermon in church and decided that the nation's fathers deserved a similar day of recognition. One of six children raised by her father after her mother's death in 1898, Dodd began working through Protestant churches and local groups in Spokane to promote the holiday. She circulated a petition suggesting the third Sunday in June as an appropriate time and urging people to wear a ROSE that day in honor of their fathers.

Because the petition was originally circulated among ministers and church organizations, the earliest observances took place in churches and modeled themselves on Mother's Day rituals. Father's Day was also seen as a good opportunity to underscore the "masculine" side of Christianity and to remind fathers of their obligation to look after their families' spiritual welfare.

Dodd formed a committee to promote the new celebration by getting political endorsements, answering inquiries from around the country, and staging local celebrations, but the idea was slow to catch on. By the 1920s Father's Day had more or less died out as a local event, and Dodd herself moved on to other projects. But after studying at the Art Institute of Chicago and working as a fashion designer in Hollywood, she returned to Spokane in the early 1930s and resumed her campaign, focusing on the holiday's 25th anniversary observance in 1935. This time she had more success, and Father's Day enjoyed a resurgence-at least in eastern Washington.

The rest of the country, however, regarded it as just another excuse for a holiday. What did fathers want with sentimental gifts and greeting cards? But then the Associated Men's Wear Retailers of New York City took up the cause, recognizing its commercial potential. They set up the National Council for the Promotion of Father's Day in 1938. The council coordinated the efforts of florists, tobacconists, stationers, and men's clothiers across the country to promote Father's Day. "Give Dad Something to Wear" was its slogan, and its goal was to boost sales by increasing the demand for Father's Day gifts.

President Calvin Coolidge had recommended that Father's Day become a nationwide observance as early as 1924. But it wasn't until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation to that effect. By the time Dodd died in 1978 at the age of 96, the Father's Day Council estimated the holiday to be worth more than $1 billion in retail sales.



What Mother's Day did for the florist industry, Father's Day did for the necktie industry. Along with tobacco, shirts, and other typically masculine gifts, neckties appeared on the earliest Father's Day greeting cards, and retailers wasted no time in turning the holiday to their advantage. Knowing that many people regarded Father's Day gifts as a joke, they designed ads showing fathers surrounded by ridiculous or tacky gifts, and then suggested the purchase of a classic silk necktie or pair of socks. Although their ploys were not difficult to see through, such advertising campaigns made it increasingly difficult to ignore Father's Day altogether.

As early as 1920 the custom of giving ties to fathers as a token of affection had already become a standing joke. The women who chose them often showed questionable taste. But the thought of giving flowers was even more laughable, and at least neckties were a more masculine, less sentimental gift. Along with socks, pipes, cigars, and shirts, neckties have somehow managed to retain their standing as the classic Father's Day gift.


Just as the carnation became a symbol for MOTHER'S DAY, the rose was suggested as the official Father's Day flower by Sonora Dodd in her 1910 petition to the Spokane Ministerial Association. It would be appropriate, she thought, if people wore a white rose in remembrance of a father who had died and a red rose as a tribute to a living father. Although more than sixty years passed before the holiday was officially established, the rose never encountered any real competition as the symbolic flower of Father's Day.


Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Father of the Year

The National Father's Day Committee, founded in 1942, promotes the observance of Father's Day, in part, by organizing annual Fathers of the Year awards. The Committee is part of the Father's Day/Mother's Day Council. In 2007 National Fathers of the Year ceremonies were held in more than twenty cities around the nation. Here are a few of the recent honorees:

2001: former boxer George Foreman, recording company entrepreneur Russell Simmons

2002: New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, basketball player Alonzo Mourning

2003: clothing designer Joseph Abboud, football player Steve Young

2004: jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, NASCAR driver Richard Petty

2005: TV personality Larry King, business leader Donald Trump

2006: rapper LL Cool J (Todd Smith), actor Jack Klugman

2007: former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, basketball player Dwyane Wade Tuleja, Tad. Curious Customs: The Stories Behind 296 Popular American Rituals. New York: Harmony, 1987.


Father's Day/Mother's Day Council www.momanddadday.com

National Center for Fathering www.fathers.com
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Father's Day

Third Sunday in June
Sonora Louise Smart Dodd from Spokane, Washington, suggested to her minister in 1910 that a day be set aside for honoring fathers. Her own father was a Civil War veteran who raised his six children on the family farm after his wife died in childbirth. The Ministerial Association and the Spokane YMCA picked up on the idea, and in 1924 Father's Day received the support of President Calvin Coolidge. But it wasn't until 1966 that a presidential proclamation established Father's Day as the third Sunday in June. Although it began as a religious celebration, today it is primarily an occasion for showing appreciation through gift-giving.
See also Children's Day, Mother's Day
National Center for Fathering
P.O. Box 413888
Kansas City, MO 64141
800-593-3237 or 913-384-4661; fax: 913-384-4665
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 467
AnnivHol-2000, p. 109
BkHolWrld-1986, Jun 21
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 158
DictDays-1988, p. 39
HolSymbols-2009, p. 251
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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