Culture & Society

Friendship Day: How Did We Get Here? Exploring Friendship From Ancient Times To Now

When was the first time human beings on the planet felt the feeling of closeness and need for a support system? When was Friendship Day declared to commemorate the popular symbols of affection between people?

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Friendship day (Representative image).
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Come July 30, youth across the world are all engaged in celebrating the joy of International Friendship Day.  With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the many crises that followed, friendship became the hallmark of the fight that needed us to stick together, even from a distance.

Friendship is a rainbow of emotions, a vessel of jealousies, fights, patch-ups, time spent, help sought and given; of forgetting and remembering. But where did all these begin from? When was the first time human beings on the planet felt the feeling of closeness and need for a support system? When was Friendship Day declared to commemorate the popular symbols of affection between friends?

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How we got here?

The word ‘friend’ is derived from the Old English word ‘freond’, which meant to love or favour.

For decades, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists have tried to explore the idea of friendship through different contexts and the evolution of human bonds through dozens of studies.

Anthropologists believed that in ancient times (read: Greek empire), the concept of friendship was mainly tied to the world of men. Thinkers and philosophers of those times believed that only those with virtues were capable of forging ties and building connections.

Renowned anthropologist Lionel Tiger was one of the first to explore male bonding and he noted that males stayed close to each other following their ancient adaptive trait.

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The Greek philosopher Aristotle classified friendship into three parts --- for the sake of benefits, for the sake of mutual pleasure and for the sake of shared values. Ancient philosophy believes that friendship stands mainly on four pillars --- hospitality, associates, relatives and political connections.

In the middle ages to follow, the dominance of religion played an important role in shaping the perspective of friendship. Excessive closeness with each other was considered an act of disrespect to Christ.

However, in the centuries to follow people started feeling a much bigger need for consolation and support, especially in times of war and political upheaval.

And with new communication technology opening up every now and then, the ambit of making connections is becoming wider. It has come to an age of virtual friendship dominating a physical one with its own set of pros and cons.

When did International Friendship’s Day begin?

Among the many theories marking the origin of friendship day, it is largely believed that the celebration of the day was first organised in 1930 by the founder of Hallmark Cards - Joyce Hall.  He wanted the day to be celebrated on August 2, when people will come together to show gratitude towards the feelings they share for each other. However, it slowly lost its charm in the coming years.

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In 1935, the US Congress decided to dedicate a day in the honor of friends. It was during a time when the world was reeling under the devastating effects of World War I with hatred spewing everywhere. It was then when Congress decided the need to show warmth and camaraderie.

Then in 1958, the World Friendship Crusade - an international civil organisation proposed the first International Friendship Day on 30th July. They campaigned to foster a peaceful culture through friendship.

The United Nations (UN) General adopted Friendship Day in 1997. In 1998, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s wife Nane Annan called Winnie the Pooh (cartoon character) - the world’s Ambassador of Friendship at the UN.

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The International Day of Friendship was proclaimed in 2011 by the UN General Assembly with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. It declared July 30 to be the official date of celebrating International Friendship Day.

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