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Instead of Father's Day, two Helsinki day care centres to observe "Relatives' Day"

As Father's Day approaches, two Helsinki day care centres have decided to rename the paternal celebration to be more inclusive, but some people on social media responded with dismay. A day care chief says their updated curriculum includes an equality policy mandate.

Children will be making cards for their fathers, mothers, grandparents - or for whomever they want - at two Helsinki day care centres on Nov 10. Image: Elina Mäyrä / Yle

Instead of Father's Day kids at Helsinki's Yliskylä and Kulosaari day care centres on November 10 will instead celebrate a day of relatives or supportive people in their lives, Yle reported on Thursday. This year, Father's Day is officially observed in Finland on Sunday, November 12.

Day care chiefs say that the move is intended to spare fatherless children or those with traumatic paternal relationships the grief or feelings of exclusion accompanied by traditional Father's Day activities such as a morning tea service and the crafting of cards and small gifts.

Many people on social media were less than thrilled by the centres' intentions, with many denouncing the name change as overarching political correctness, a disrespect for traditions and an offense towards fathers.

Day care director Mervi Eskelinen from Yliskylä says none of these accusations are in line with what they are trying to accomplish – and that dads are as welcome as ever to visit the centre for coffee and games on the big day.

"Families decide for themselves which relative or guardian will accompany the child on November 10th," Eskelinen says. "This way all the children can start off the special day with someone close to them. The same goes for Mother's Day."

Eskelinen iterates that the more neutral nomenclature has its roots in the new curriculum guidelines, which emphasise equality and parity.

Day cares have right to choose

All of Helsinki's more than 300 municipal day care centres have the freedom to choose how or whether to celebrate special days, and what to call the festivities. How much the children's family background factors in is also at the centres' discretion.

Helsinki's early-childhood education director, Satu Järvenkallas, says she trusts the pedagogical abilities of all day care staff members.

"This is not about doing away with Father's Day at all. I see no problem with there being a celebration of fathers as well as other close supportive adults at the same time. The important thing is to give every child the chance to participate," Järvenkallas says. "No one needs to feel left out."

Shifting family norms

Families that don't conform to traditional conceptions of the nuclear family are on the rise, with more mothers raising their children alone by choice and different varieties of so-called rainbow families.

Executive director Juha Turtiainen from the Single Parent Association says that all families have changed over the last few decades.

"Small families have changed as well. Families with single guardians have more in common than just the single-parent aspect."

The Yliskylä day care's policy is to make diversity visible and to make sure all children are treated equally.

"The world is changing, and so must we," says Eskelinen. "This relatives' day is just one step forward. We've only gotten positive responses so far."

Father's Day has been celebrated in Finland each November since the early 1970s, becoming an official flag day in 1987. The Finnish word läheinen can mean any especially close person, such as a relative or friend.