Father's Day origins: What is the history of the day and why do we celebrate it?

Here's where the special day came from...

A father hugging two children either side of him
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Father's Day falls on Sunday 18 June this year - but what are the origins of the tradition?

As June arrives it's time to start searching for the best Father's Day gifts that will make dad feel extra special, and start brainstorming some Father's Day quotes and messages to write in your card. The event takes place on the third Sunday of June every year, but many of us don't know where the tradition comes from.

It turns out Father's Day is much more modern than the origins of Mother's Day - which come from a Christian tradition - and it's only in the past 100 years or so that it has become a widespread celebration. First beginning in West Virginia before spreading across the pond, here's the origins of Father's Day as we know it today...

Father's Day origins - where did Father's Day come from?

Father's Day campaigns began in the early 1900s, with many wishing for a day to celebrate fathers in the same way that Mother's Day already did. It took a while for the idea to take off however, and while the first official Father's Day was celebrated in 1910, it wasn't declared an national holiday in the US until 1972.

In 1908, a church in West Virginia held a commemorative service celebrating fathers, and a year later a Washington woman called Sonora Smart Dodd made it her mission to set up a national Father’s Day. She and her five siblings were raised solely by her father after her mother died in childbirth, and she was upset by the fact that there was a Mother’s Day, but no corresponding day for fathers.

A father with his son on his shoulders holding a toy airplane

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dodd petitioned her local community and government to change this, originally proposing for Father’s Day to be on 5 June - which was her own father's birthday - as a way of honoring him.

Thanks to Dodd, Washington celebrated its first Father's Day in 1910, and the celebration then slowly spread to other states and to the UK. However, Father's Day didn't really take off until World War II, when when advertisers grabbed an opportunity to use the annual event to promote the troops.

In the US, Nixon finally declared Father’s Day a national holiday in 1972 when he signed it into law in the middle of his re-election campaign.

But despite the holiday's current popularity, it wasn't without controversy in its early days. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson confirmed that he was working to make the holiday recognized at a national level after he attended Father's Day celebrations in Washington, but Congress was reluctant due to fears of commercialization.

Then, during the 1930s, a movement emerged to scrap both Father's Day and Mother's Day in favor of a joint Parent's Day, but this was unsuccessful - partly because the local economy got a boost from people buying gifts and cards for two separate events.

When did Fathers Day start?

The first ever Father’s Day happened in 1908. A church in West Virginia held a special sermon in honor fathers, after 362 men were killed in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. 

Parishioners gave out red and white roses to honor fathers both living and dead, in commemoration of all that our fathers do for us.

However, the celebration was a one-time commemoration and not an attempt at a national holiday, and the church community didn’t celebrate it again.

Two years later, Washington state celebrated its first Father’s Day in June 1910, thanks to Sonora Smart Dodd. The event was delayed until16 June, rather than taking place on the date of 5 June, which Dodd had campaigned for.

How do we celebrate Father's Day?

Father's Day is celebrated by purchasing Father's Day gifts and cards. Common Father's Day gifts include socks, ties, wallets and alcohol, as well as various electronics and special outings.

While both the US and the UK celebrate Father's Day on the third Sunday of June, other countries celebrate the event on different dates. Many countries, including Spain, Italy and Croatia, celebrate Father’s Day on 19 March, due to it corresponding to the traditional Catholic holiday of St. Joseph's Day - the legal father of Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, Father's Day in Russia is celebrated on February 23rd and is known as 'Defender of the Fatherland Day'. It was originally created to support the people in the armed services and was made a state holiday in 2002.

Father's Day facts

  • In 2022, it was predicted Americans would spend about $20 billion on Father's Day gifts.
  • Father's Day is the fourth most popular day for exchanging cards, with approximately 72 million being bought each year.
  • 50 percent of all Father’s Day cards are purchased for dads. Nearly 20 percent of Father’s Day cards are purchased for husbands while other categories include grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles.
  • Almost one fifth of American dads said in a poll they want 'nothing' for Father's Day, while 11% said they would most want to receive a card.
  • 33% of Americans admit they spend more on mom for Mother’s Day than they do on dad for Father’s Day.
  • Thailand celebrates Father’s Day on 5th December, which is King Bhumibol's birthday. He is seen as the father of the nation.
  • Roses are the official flower of Father's Day.
  • A tie is the most commonly purchased item of clothing for a Father’s Day gift.

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Ellie Hutchings
Features Editor

Ellie is Goodto’s Feature Editor, having joined the team as a Junior Features Writer in 2022, and covers everything from wellbeing for parents to the latest TV and entertainment. Ellie has covered all the latest trends in the parenting world, including baby names, parenting hacks, and foodie tips for busy families. She has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University, and previously Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies.