The first American Father's Day observation probably took place on June 19, 1910 in Spokane, Washington. Sonora Dodd (Mrs. John B. Dodd) first proposed the idea of a "father's day" in 1909 after hearing a Mother's Day sermon. She wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart, a Civil War veteran who was born in the month of June.
In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea of a national Father's Day, but it was not until 1966 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation declaring the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. However, it did not actually become an official U.S. holiday until 1974 under President Richard Nixon.
Father's Day in Germany has a different origin and is a very different observance than the American version. (Austria's Vatertag is more like the U.S. holiday. See below.) Germany's Vatertag began in the Middle Ages as a religious procession honoring "Gott, den Vater" on Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt, usually in May). Although as late as the 1700s Vatertag was a family day for honoring dad, somehow things went sour and in the 19th century the custom reappeared in Berlin as a less refined and very alcoholic celebration on that same date (5 May 2005, 25 May 2006, 17 May 2007). Today Germany's Vatertag is supposed to be closer to a "boys' day out" and a pub tour with the guys (Männerrunde) than the more family-oriented Father's Day in the U.S. In eastern Germany the day is known as Herrentag, but in all parts of Germany, the Herrentag/Vatertag tradition has a bad reputation as a "Sauftag" ("drinking day"). It may make German bar and brewery owners happy, but hardly anyone else. In some regions groups of men (few of them fathers) still go off into the country to have a "Joe Six-Pack" party on Vatertag, but in reality, the German Father's Day beer bust is largely a thing of the past. While in the past a bunch of drunken men may have been amusing, it is no longer viewed as something funny. Besides, German men today hardly need a holiday excuse to have a few drinks with their buddies.
The Austrian Father's Day observance, while closer to the American holiday, is still not exactly the same thing. The date is also in June (on the second Sunday), but the celebration has a slightly more religious connotation, something like a feast day in the Catholic church. Even more than in the US, the Austrian Vatertag ranks far lower in importance than Muttertag. The first observance of Father's Day in Austria was in 1956. Today it is similar to the U.S. Father's Day in that many Austrians give cards and presents for Papis special day.
Father's Day in Switzerland seems to be almost unknown. When it is observed at all, Vatertag seems to be a regional affair, falling either in June or October, but there is no Swiss national holiday for Papa.
• Deutschland/Germany: Christi Himmelfahrt/Ascension Day (17 May 2007)
• Österreich/Austria: 2nd Sunday in June (10 June 2007)
• USA: 3rd Sunday in June (17 June 2007)
German humorist and cartoonist, Wilhelm Busch: "Vater werden ist nicht schwer, Vater sein dagegen sehr." (Becoming a father isn't hard; being a father on the other hand is very hard.)
Mother's Day: Muttertag
Holiday Calendar: Feiertagkalender
Traditions: German Customs and Holidays