Celebrating dads worldwide
by Andy Bryenton
Father’s Day might seem to be one of those holidays, which can be brushed off as ‘made up’ by greeting card companies, breweries, and the manufacturers of novelty ties and socks. However, there’s a long, long history of celebrating papas, pops, fathers, dads and ‘old men’ worldwide. Even our modern holiday has some unexpected twists and turns.
Modern Father’s Day has an unusual father in itself. It was made an official holiday in the United States by a character in politics more well known for the Watergate scandal than family fun; Richard M Nixon. His predecessor Lyndon Johnson put it on the calendar in 1966, and part of the popularity of the day is said to be down to the number of young fathers who served in Vietnam during this era. Of course, an unofficial Father’s Day had prevailed in the USA and elsewhere since the early 20th century, with the first Father’s Day dedicated to fathers who had lost their lives in a mining disaster in 1907. From remembrance to celebration, the day soon took on a happier tone.
Along the way, Father’s Day has picked up bits and pieces of holidays from other nations and cultures respecting and praising dads. In Germany, Father’s Day is a very old tradition indeed, and some local dads would love to copy their Teutonic brothers in celebrating by dressing in silly clothes and hiking into the forest to drink beer with their mates. It’s an accepted day off for dads to behave like lads and is called Herrenstag or Vaderstag, with this second monicker bearing an uncanny resemblance to the most famous ‘I am your father’ in movie history.
Brazil celebrates the father of the Christian Saint Mary, himself a saint as well. Joachim was traditionally depicted as a simple farmer, so the pragmatic Brazilians celebrate his day by barbecuing all kinds of meats and thus covering, perhaps, all the types of barnyard animals he might have herded. Meanwhile, the Russians take national pride in not just fathers themselves, but the ‘fatherland’ with a celebration of those who have served to defend Russian soil in the second world war. Toasts of vodka and parades of tanks make for a holiday, which is almost stereotypical of the heyday of the Soviet years, though it is still carried on today with greater freedoms.
In Mexico, Father’s Day is all about physical fitness. There’s a grand 21-kilometre marathon called the Carrera del Dia del Padres to compete in, and it’s open to the whole family, not just dads. The French call the day La Fete Des Peres, and as you might imagine, it’s an occasion for some very fine dining indeed. A special bottle of wine may be put aside just for this event, with next years bottle being popped in the cellar as a ‘gift’ to oneself next year. The Thai people, who have a great love and respect for their King, used to celebrate Father’s Day on his birthday up until his death in 2016. It would seem logical to move the day to the birthday of his son and heir, but as a mark of respect, the new King has been joined with his subjects in retaining his dad’s special day as the nation’s Father’s Day forever.
Perhaps the biggest celebration of dads comes from Nepal, where there are week-long festivals in honour of both people’s real dads and also the father figures among the Hindu gods. The Gokarna Aunsi festival sees hundreds of people prepare food sacrifices, which are placed at sacred sites, light candles and incense, tie prayer flags on the grave markers of male ancestors, and make treks to the temple of Shiva to offer respect to fathers who have passed into the next life.
Here in New Zealand, it’s a bit more of a relaxed holiday, so long as you remember to get something for dad nice and early. There are plenty of great gift ideas around town for you to explore; from tools for handy dads who like to work on their classic cars or home improvements, through to the delicious prospect of a night out at a top local restaurant. Whatever you do, spare a thought for dad, and the others who fulfil the vital role of a father figure in the lives of our kids. That could mean grandads, uncles, mums or stepdads too; all doing their part to raise a happy and healthy new generation, and worthy of a pat on the back this September 1.