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Vaderdag: A history of Father’s Day in the Netherlands and abroad

Vaderdag: A history of Father’s Day in the Netherlands and abroad

It’s that time of the year again. June has arrived and with it comes Father’s Day: a day dedicated to fathers around the world. It might not be a Dutch holiday, but it’s certainly celebrated by families in the Netherlands, as children take the opportunity to present their dads, grandfathers, or other father figures with cards and gifts. 

Like Mother’s Day (Moederdag), this is a tradition that has a fascinating history and is celebrated differently by countries around the world.

The history and origins of Father’s Day

Celebrated annually on the third Sunday in June, Father’s Day is originally an American tradition. The woman generally credited with founding the holiday is Sonora Smart Dodd. She and her five siblings were raised by her father, a Civil War veteran, in Washington in the late 19th century after her mother died in childbirth

As Mother’s Day was gaining popularity in the US in the early 20th century, Dodd is believed to have come up with the idea of establishing a similar day in order to recognise America’s dads. Religious leaders in her home state were supportive of the idea, and the first-ever Father’s Day was celebrated in 1910, with the month of June selected in honour of Dodd’s father’s birth month.

A few years later, in 1966, American President Lyndon B. Johnson officially recognised Father’s Day as a national tradition, and in 1972 President Richard Nixon declared it an official holiday, to be recognised every year on the third Sunday in June.

Father’s Day in the United States

It might have originated in the US, but nowadays Father’s Day is celebrated in counties across the globe. The date in June is used for Father’s Day in many countries, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Over time, the holiday has become increasingly commercialised, with dads receiving a variety of cards and gifts on the big day. 

When Dodd first founded the holiday in the US, she came up with the idea for people to wear different coloured roses: a white rose to honour a father who was deceased and a red rose for a father who was living. Over the years this tradition has become significantly less common, but some people will still wear a red or a white rose on Father’s Day.

Fathers’ Day traditions around the world 

There are countries that have chosen to celebrate Father’s Day at different times of the year. Scandinavian countries typically have their own variation of the holiday on the second Sunday of November, meanwhile, Brazil and China celebrate the day in August, and Australia and New Zealand do it in September. Some Roman Catholic countries, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, celebrate Father’s Day on the date of the Feast of St. Joseph - the patron saint of fathers.

In Germany, dads aren’t celebrated on the traditional Father’s Day. Instead, families tend to honour dads annually on Ascension Day. This tradition is based on the belief that Jesus’ ascension marked his return to his father in heaven. Over the course of the 20th century, though, the German celebration of fathers evolved into a celebration of all things manly, with many locals now referring to the tradition as a day of “boozing and brawling.”

In Thailand - where Father’s Day is celebrated on the birthday of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej on December 5 - the King gives a speech, and children traditionally present their fathers and grandfathers with Canna lilies, which is seen as a masculine flower. People will wear yellow clothes and light candles in honour of the late King.  

Father’s Day in Russia is observed every February, and started off as a military celebration, but over time has become a day dedicated to all men. The military roots of the holiday haven’t been completely forgotten, though, as even today the celebration is known as Defender of the Fatherland Day. Since 2021, Russia has also had a more traditional Father’s Day, which takes place in October.

Celebrating Vaderdag in the Netherlands

The Dutch version of the day, Vaderdag, first took place 1937. The national holiday was the initiative of the Dutch Association of Men's Fashion Retailers, and at the time it was held in October. In 1948, the Netherlands swapped to the more commonly observed date in June.

Like in the US and the UK, Father’s Day is a fairly commercialised holiday in the Netherlands, and is celebrated in a similar way to Mother’s Day in May. Families take the opportunity to meet up and spend the day today, perhaps going out and enjoying a meal together. 

Children might present their dads with a luxurious breakfast in bed, and will offer up any variety of homemade or store-bought gifts and cards. In the run-up to Father’s Day, schools will generally encourage children to make a card to give to their dads or another father figure in their life. 

Do you have Father’s Day in your home country? How is it typically celebrated? Let us know in the comments below!

Victoria Séveno

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Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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