Q: You recently addressed the question whether a Christian should observe Mother's Day. What about the observance of Father's Day? Don't they belong together? If we don't keep the one, should we still keep the other?


A: Our Question and Answer section in Update #100 (July 4, 2003), explained the facts pertaining to the ancient and modern origins of Mother’s Day. We emphasized that it is a Christian’s personal decision to determine whether the evidence presented was “sufficient or not to establish a direct and immediate connection between pagan origins, Catholic Church influence, and our modern custom of celebrating Mother’s Day — especially in the United States, Canada and continental Europe.”

The same will have to be said regarding the observance of Father’s Day. One source (“About,Inc.”) describes the modern origin of Father’s Day in this way: “The modern origin of Father’s Day in the United States is not clear. Some say that it began with a church service in West Virginia in 1908. Others say the first Father’s Day ceremony was held in Vancouver, Washington. The president of the Chicago branch of the Lion’s Club, Harry Meek, is said to have celebrated the first Father’s Day with his organization in 1915; and the day that they chose was the third Sunday in June, the closest date to Meek’s own birthday! Regardless of when the first true Father’s Day occurred, the strongest promoter of the holiday was Mrs. Bruce John Dodd of Spokane, Washington. Mrs. Dodd felt that she had an outstanding father [Mr. Smart]. He was a veteran of the Civil War. His wife had died young, and he had raised six children without their mother. In 1909, Mrs. Dodd approached her own minister and others in Spokane about having a church service dedicated to fathers on June 5, her father’s birthday. That date was too soon for her minister to prepare the service, so he spoke a few weeks later on June 19th. From then on, the state of Washington celebrated the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day… States and organizations began lobbying Congress to declare an annual Father’s Day. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson approved the idea, but it was not until 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge made it a national event…” The holiday was made official in 1972 by President Richard Nixon (see below).

The Daily Beacon, Volume 90, Number 5 (June 14, 2002), elaborated: “In 1909, as Smart [i.e., Mrs. Bruce John Dodd, daughter of Mr. Smart] was listening to a sermon celebrating Mother’s Day, she thought of her father… Smart wanted a day to honor fathers with special religious services, special meals, small gifts and flowers. After sharing her idea with local religious leaders…, a resolution was passed to observe a Father’s Day.” Biography.com concurs, “… The inspiration behind the celebration of a Father’s Day is owed at least partly to its slightly earlier counterpart, Mother’s Day.” The article also points out that Smart had the idea of setting aside a Father’s Day, when hearing a sermon on the “merits of setting aside a day to honor one’s mother.” (Compare, too, PageWise, Inc., 2002, “History of Father’s Day”).

“Hallmark Press Room” explains, under “Father’s Day 2003”: “Father’s Day is always the third Sunday in June… Father’s Day is the fourth-largest card-sending occasion with nearly 90 million Father’s Day cards expected to be given this year in the United States… Smart’s daughter [Mrs. Bruce John Dodd] got the idea for Father’s Day in 1909 while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at church. She encouraged local churches to institute a Father’s Day observance the following year on one Sunday in June, the month of her father’s birth… The holiday was made official in 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed a presidential resolution that declared Father’s Day as the third Sunday in June.”

Apart from its obvious connection with Mother’s Day and its religious church background, is there any evidence that Father’s Day is of pagan and/or Catholic origin?

The Laboratorium writes under “Happy Father’s Day”: “Father’s Day was originally a pagan holiday, the Great Sky-Father’s Day. Part of the week of celebrations leading up to the summer solstice, the day was given over to celebrating the Sky-Father’s providing for his human children with rich gifts of sun and rain. Gifts of sacrificial goats and sheep (recognizable by the festive ribbons bound about their necks) were supplemented with prayers for his continued guidance in the human journey towards spiritual adulthood. The precise transition to the Father’s Day we know today is lost in the mists of time, but it seems that several generations of CHRISTIAN PRIESTS gradually ATTEMPTED TO NEUTRALIZE THE PAGAN RITUALS by focusing on the literal steps of the ceremonies, rather than their spiritual meanings. The passing of celebratory garlands from sons to fathers was retained, and reemphasized as the central act of the great Sky-Father’s celebration, rather than the sacrifices and prayers. As part of this reinterpretation, the practice of tying ribbons was moved from the animals to the fathers, and appears to be recognizably the origin of the custom of giving ties on Father’s Day.

The connection with pagan and/or Catholic origins becomes even clearer, when considering modern Father’s Day celebrations and customs in certain European countries. In Palermo, Italy, Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19 in order to honor “Holy Joseph.” On that day, old furniture, tables and other items are burned. As “Bank4Fun” explains, “this custom is derived from the Worship of the Sun, which has an historical origin in Palermo.” In Austria, Father’s Day, which is celebrated in June, is a Christian CHURCH holiday. In Germany, “Father’s Day” is celebrated, since 1936, on the same day as “Ascension Day.” This CATHOLIC holiday, also known as “the Day of the Lord,” is always kept on a Thursday — 40 days or on the 5th Sunday after Easter — to celebrate Christ’s ascension. On this day, men visit restaurants, consuming a lot of alcohol, while it is unfashionable to travel with a woman on that day. “Glaube Aktuell” and Professor Gottfried Rehm, Fulda, explain that these restaurant visits, as well as Catholic processions on that day, have their origins in Germanic customs, when men drank alcohol and asked their gods to bless the harvest for the year. Others, such as Dr. theol. Manfred Becker-Huberti, point out that the Father’s Day celebrations might be derived from honoring Pope Leo III (795-816).

Studying these facts in conjunction with our article on “Mother’s Day,” we must again emphasize that it is the personal decision of each Christian whether or not to keep those days. His decision must be based on personal faith and conviction, knowing that whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

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