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Father’s Day: Diverse traditions

Father’s Day: Diverse traditions

The modern concept of Father’s Day can be traced back to Spokane, Washington, North America in 1909, where Sonora Louise Smart Dodd questioned why there was a day to honour one’s mother but not one’s father. Dodd’s mother had died in childbirth, leaving her father to take care of six children alone, instilling in Dodd a desire to celebrate him in the same manner society celebrated their mothers. Inspired by Anna Jarvis’ plight to promote Mother’s Day, Dodd began her campaign whilst being supported by local charities, leading to Spokane celebrating its first Father’s Day on June 19th 1910.

The popularity of the American Father’s Day was bolstered by the backing of presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge who lent their support to the idea as a way to encourage closer family ties. Divorce rates had doubled in a relatively short period and Father’s Day was viewed as a necessary protection of the nuclear family. In 1966, following a prolonged period of hesitation, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation which declared that Father’s Day was to be acknowledged on the third Sunday in June each year: “I invite State and local governments to cooperate in the observance of that day; and I urge all our people to give public and private expression to the love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers.”[1]

​Although North America and Western Europe tend to celebrate the day in the fashion of buying cards and presents for their fathers, other parts of the globe have their own celebratory traditions. In Thailand, Father’s Day is celebrated on the 5th of December to commemorate the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday. The festivities are used to promote the social importance of the royal family as well as to celebrate the institution of the monarchy. Leading up to Father’s Day, the streets are decorated with photographs of the monarch and the national flag and royal emblems are draped on government buildings, shops and homes. On the day itself, people wear yellow, the traditional colour of Monday in Thai culture. Recently, the colour in vogue was changed to pink after the king was seen sporting a rose-coloured jacket. The celebrations include a nationally televised ritual where the king visits Buddhist monks who bless him. In the evening, there is a candlelight ​ceremony and free concerts. Completing the festivities, there is an elaborate firework display, followed by the singing of the national anthem.
Nepalese Father’s day is known as Gokarna Aunsi which translates to ‘cow earned no moon night.’ The inclusion of ‘cow’ is in reference to the cow-eared incarnation of Shiva, a Hindu deity who is celebrated alongside fathers on the day. Gokarna Aunsi, which is typically celebrated in late August or early September, is also referred to as Kushe Aushi, meaning ‘looking at father’s face’. This second name refers to the practice of sons touching their foreheads to their father’s feet before looking him in the eyes to show their appreciation. Alternatively, daughters touch their foreheads to their father’s hands before looking to him. If a person’s father has passed away, they will travel to the Gokarna Temple in Kathmandu to perform Shraddha, a death ritual, to pray for their deceased fathers. This ritual includes inviting a Brahmanaas, a person of nobility, usually a teacher or priest, and substituting them as the parent. They are then served with food and their feet are washed. It is not unusual for people to offer food to cows as they are viewed as sacred in Hinduism. A homa may also be performed which is a sacrificial ritual which entails putting divinities and food into a fire.
Father’s Day in Germany is markedly different. It is more commonly referred to as Männertag or Herrentag, meaning ‘men’s day’ or ‘gentleman’s day’ and celebrated on the 40th day of Easter. To celebrate the day, the male members of the family will take turns to pull a wagon full of regional beer and food until they reach their destined location, usually on top of a hill, where they will then relax, eat, and drink. This form of merriment dates back to the Christian Ascension Day farmland procession where men would be seated in a wagon and carried to the village plaza. Upon arrival, the mayor would award a large piece of ham to the man who had the most children.Every country has its own way of celebrating the day, ranging from the ‘Dia del Padre 21km Bosque de Tlalpan’ race in Mexico which sons participate to show their appreciation of their fathers, to the Japanese custom of presenting homemade sweets, cards and perfumes. Whatever the tradition, it is apparent that families all over the world still see the importance in honouring their fathers for the sacrifices they have given to support their families.
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