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What Does It Mean to Have a "Day in the Sun"?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The English phrase, “day in the sun,” generally refers to long-awaited attention, accolades, or other forms of appreciation. As such, it is usually attached to a pronoun, for example, in “his day in the sun” or “my day in the sun.” It’s often assumed that the positive responses implied in the phrase are deserved, though this is not a given.

Although the phrase “day in the sun” is commonly understood as something more abstract than an actual vacation day, some may refer to the phrase to describe an incentive from an employer that may include vacation time or any other privileges. In common use, the ideas of incentive and broader positive affirmation mingle in the idea of the idiomatic phrase.

When referring to some positive outcome for an individual, the phrase is similar in some ways to another common English idiom: “every dog has its day.” In this variant of the phrase, the idea is that each person deserves his or her own day of appreciation and recognition. Some English speakers understand the phrase “every dog has its day” to mean that even undeserving people may receive attention and accolades at some point, while others take it as a reference to actual canines, many of which are patient and wait a long time for rewards from their owners.

As an idiom, “day in the sun” is sometimes linked to Sunday, generally known in many English-speaking Christian societies as a day of rest. These two ideas may not be very solidly linked in terms of origin, but some English speakers may associate them with one another. The term “Sunday” has its own particular origins, where in a nod to various world religions, the Romans associated the “head day of the week” with the sun. Some Christians later appropriated this as a play on the word “son” in which Jesus Christ figures as the son of God.

Having "a day in the sun" carries an overwhelmingly positive connotation, and is just one of many phrases that regard the sun as a positive symbol of life or happiness. For example, a “sunny day” can be construed by English speakers in many positive ways. The word “sunshine” has also been abstracted into different positive ideas. This general concept is rather important to English and a variety of other world languages.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1004156 — On Dec 01, 2020

Thanks for your comments on "A Day in the Sun." I was researching the term in reference to a haiku by Leonard D. Moore and your comments along with research on cotton blossoms vs bolls (the white puffy fibrous seed heads that we all think of in reference to cotton fields. It's safe to assume that Moore who is from the south knew the difference and deliberately used blossoms instead of bolls.

funeral procession

the stillness of cotton blossoms

in sunlight

Lenard D. Moore

In this poem, the cotton blossoms, which live only 1 day, are having their day in the sun. Someone who has died is also having his/her day in the sun because a "procession" implies a formal gathering giving praise to someone in an unusual way. I think about the funeral processions of presidents and important figures like Martin Luther King.

Ray R.

By Rotergirl — On Apr 25, 2014

I'm always interested in these kinds of idioms and their origins. I'm betting this one has a reference back to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that's really just a guess.

I'd like to know how long it's been in the language as a common expression. I'm betting it's been in the vernacular for quite a while.

By Pippinwhite — On Apr 24, 2014

Andy Warhol rephrased it as "15 minutes of fame," which doesn't have quite as positive a reference, but still means someone has achieved something in the way of success.

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