The Origins and Traditions of Father’s Day in France

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Father’s Day in France takes place on the third Sunday of June, less than a month after Mother’s Day (on the last Sunday in May). In the United States and the United Kingdom, people celebrate Father’s Day on the same day as in France. That is just around the beginning of summer. However, Australians and New Zealanders honoured their Fathers a few months after, on the first Sunday in September.


Let’s go back to the Ancient World…

According to some reports by historians, the tradition of honouring fathers dates from the Old Babylonian period, four thousand years ago.

Babylon

Babylon

They have constructed the story of Elmesu, a young man who would have lived around 2000 BC.

In order to honour his much-loved father, Elmesu dedicated a message to him wishing him good health and a long and happy life.

It is the oldest Father’s Day greeting card to have been ever discovered, even if its style is very different from the cards we can buy in news agencies today!

In fact, Elmesu carved his message on clay. This allowed the artefact to be well-preserved for centuries and to be discovered during excavations.

As a matter of fact, celebrating fathers and wishing them all the best might not be as recent a custom as is often thought.

However, the tradition as we know it today was adopted at the beginning of the 20th century. It first spread throughout the English-speaking countries before reaching France.


Father’s Day in English-speaking countries

The modern customs of Father’s Day most likely originate in the United States, about a hundred years ago.

They are several stories that make the foundations of Father’s Day. Most of them are certainly true and together led to the spread of that celebration.

Grace Clayton’s tribute

The first story says a lady named Grace Clayton from West Virginia founded Father’s Day.

Father's Day in France - Grace Clayton

Grace Clayton

In 1907, she heard of a mining accident that happened in Monogah, a few kilometres away from her home, resulting in the death of 310 miners.

Among them, there were more than two hundred fathers, leaving a thousand orphans behind.

The event deeply affected Mrs Clayton. She asked her pastor, Rev. Thomas Webb, to organise a ceremony to pay tribute to the miners and their widows and orphans.

The actual ceremony took place a few months later, on a Sunday in June 1908, in accordance with Mrs Clayton wishes. She also wanted to pay tribute to her father, who had died twenty years earlier, and whose birthday was in the middle of June.

Harry Meek, “originator of Father’s Day”

Another person, a man called Harry Meek, is reported to have been the originator of Father’s Day.

As the President of the Lions Club of Chicago in the 1910s, he organised a ceremony to honour the fathers of his association in 1915.

The celebration took place on the third Sunday of June, being the closest Sunday to Harry Meek’s own birthday.

In 1920, the Lions Club of America honoured Mr Meek. He received a gold watch, on which was carved the following inscription: “Originator of Father’s Day”.

Sonora Smart Dodd’s tribute to her father

Finally, a third story has been reported for a century as the starting point of Father’s Day in the English-speaking countries.

It features a young lady from the State of Washington called Sonora Smart Dodd (1882-1978).

Father's Day in France - Sonora Smart Dodd

Sonora Smart Dodd

While listening to a sermon during a Mother’s Day celebration in 1909, she had had the idea of creating a similar celebration dedicated to fathers.

Sonora Smart Dodd especially wanted to pay tribute to her own father, who was a Civil War Veteran raising his six children alone.

As her father was born in the middle of June, she organised a Father’s Day celebration in her hometown of Spokane on 19th June 1910.

An official celebration in the US

Father’s Day then became an official celebration in the United States, President Calvin Coolidge asking in 1924 for Father’s Day to be organised throughout the country.

Father's Day Telegram circa 1941 © USMC Archives - licence [CC BY 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Father’s Day Telegram circa 1941 © USMC Archives – licence [CC BY 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons

However, the Congress refused several times to pass a law that would have established an official Father’s Day, fearing it would become a commercial celebration.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued a presidential proclamation honouring fathers, recognising the fact that Father’s Day was taking place on the third Sunday of June.

Finally, in 1972 President Richard Nixon signed into law a permanent Father’s Day to be observed on the third Sunday of June, making that celebration a national annual holiday.

The celebration today

Today’s Father’s Day in English speaking-countries was born in the United States, before spreading to the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

In most of the English speaking countries, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June.

Father's Day in France © Steven Van Loy - licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

Father’s Day in France © Steven Van Loy – licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

However, in Australia and New-Zealand, it takes place on the first Sunday of September, which is also the first Sunday of spring.

Then, the weather is usually better, allowing families to plan open-air events such as picnics or barbecues.


Father’s Day in France

Father’s Day in France has a slightly different history.

According to historians, we can find its root in Catholic tradition. According to that, fathers used to be honoured every year, on the 19th March, which corresponds to Saint Joseph’s day.

Joseph, as the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, worked hard in order to ensure a stable life for his family.

For centuries, this celebration has been a way of paying tribute to St. Joseph, but also to fathers in general.

La Fête des Pères in the 20th century

In the 20th century, another tradition sprang up alongside it, the origins and aims of it being totally different.

In 1946, Marcel Quercia created a company called “Flaminaire” in Brittany. The firm’s main products were gas lighters, of which Mr Quercia was the first retailer. As a businessman, he then wanted to promote its innovation throughout France and spent much money in advertising.

Father's Day in France- Briquet Flaminaire

Father’s Day in France- Briquet Flaminaire

However, the company was hardly known by French people, while smoking was paradoxically fashionable at the end of the 1940s.

Mr Quercia had an idea. To create a link between his lighters and fathers in order to make his products appear essential.

Consequently “Flaminaire” founded Father’s Day in France in 1949. It took place on the third Sunday of June, just like the American celebration.

It was a huge success: three years later, an official decree recognised the existence of an annual Father’s Day, on the third Sunday of June!


Celebration Dates

In the United States, in the United Kingdom and in France

2020: 21st June
2021: 20th June
2022: 21st June

In Australia and New-Zealand

2020: 6th September
2021: 5th September
2022: 4th September


French poems for Father’s Day in France

Father's Day in France - Drawing

Pour mon Père

Mon père aimé, mon père à moi,
Toi qui me fais bondir
Sur tes genoux
Comme un chamois,

Que pourrais-je te dire
Que tu ne sais déjà ?

Il fait si doux
Quand ton sourire
Éclaire tout
sous notre toit.

Je me sens fort, je me sens roi,
Quand je marche à côté de toi.

Maurice CARÊME

Father's Day in France - Drawing

La Fête des Pères

En mai, j’avais appris quelques vers,
Récités peut-être de travers,
Pour dire « bonne fête » à maman,
Pour toi, aujourd’hui, j’en fais autant.

Espérant que cela va te plaire
Que je pense à la fête des pères,
Je récite ces mots, sans les lire,
Alors, j’attends ton plus beau sourire
Si tu es fier de moi, mon papa,
Puis serre-moi, très fort, dans tes bras.

Jean GLAUZY

Father's Day in France - Drawing

Papa

Quand je suis dans tes bras
Mon coeur bat tout bas
Tout bas

Quand tu me fais un bisou
C’est tout doux
Tout doux

Quand je suis sur ton coeur
Je n’ai plus peur
Plus peur

Quand tu me fais un câlin
Je n’ai plus de chagrin
De chagrin

Mais quand tu es parti
Je m’ennuie à l’infini

Papa

Stéphanie GERON


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Father's Day in France - Photo @ollega via Twenty20

For more info, check out the Father’s Day page on Wikipedia in English or in French!

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