Pop Culture dictionary

Gotcha Day

[goch-uh dey]

What does Gotcha Day mean?

Among pet parents, Gotcha Day is the day people celebrate bringing home their new pet, usually a rescue. In the adoption community, Gotcha Day is a controversial name for the practice of celebrating the day (and its anniversary) the adoption of a child was finalized or when the family first brought home an adopted child.

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Where does Gotcha Day come from?

Early evidence for the expression Gotcha Day comes from at least the early 1990s (an obscure 1985 children’s book, we should note was called The Glad I Gotcha Day). Gotcha is a colloquial way of expressing “got you,” recorded as such as early as the 1920s, though likely said that way well earlier. So, Gotcha Day is the day that a family got their newest member.

It’s not clear whether Gotcha Day first referred to either to the day that parents finalized the adoption of their new child or the day that people bring home a pet from the shelter. Early evidence (from 1993 on Usenet groups) shows that expression was used for both.

It’s useful to note that Gotcha Day is often not the exact day an adoption (of a pet or person) is finalized, as the processing of adoption is typically lengthy and complex. That’s why some celebrate Gotcha Day on the day an adopted child is brought to their new home.

Throughout the 1990s, Gotcha Day became popular in adoptive family communities. It was notably used in discussion of birthday celebration equivalents for adopted children in a 2001 pediatrics manual. In 2005, Margaret Schwartz declared September 15 to be International Gotcha Day in her book The Pumpkin Patch.

Gotcha Day celebrations for people are often similar to a birthday party—cake, cards, and quality family time. You might say to the child or the family “Happy Gotcha Day!” Gotcha Day is a way to celebrate and reaffirm the adopted child.

In the 2000s, the term Gotcha Day became more complicated for adopted children and their parents. Some adopted children or their families voiced that term Gotcha Day made them uncomfortable, as if the child were an object or that the expression sounds gloating or evokes capture.

This debate was sparked in part by a column entitled “Get Rid of ‘Gotcha'” by Karen Moline published in Adoptive Families magazine in 2006. Moline, an adoptive mother herself, wrote: “I find the use of ‘gotcha’ to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive. Aside from being parent-centered (‘C’mere, little orphan, I gotcha now!’) it smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life.”

Moline, and many others, also express concern about Gotcha Day due to the realities of forced adoptions and kidnapping.

Another major source of controversy for using Gotcha Day to describe bringing home a child is the fact that the expression is also used to describe the day that pet parents (or zoos) bring home their new furry friend, especially for pets that were rescued from shelters. The objection here is that it may equate children with animals.

Examples of Gotcha Day

Thank you all for the kind words on my gotcha day. I’m so excited to live here. I was in a crate all the time before. Here I get to sleep on a bed, couch wherever I want. I’m like never alone. Ever!! My human ... makes sure I feel secure and loved.

@SirMackTheP, August 2019  
Kirschner tries to make every “Gotcha Day” special for new parents. That’s the day many adoptive families celebrate as the anniversary of when an adoption was finalized.
Victoria Sanchez, WJLA, February 2019
Ripped Jeans and Bifocals / Pinterest

Who uses Gotcha Day?

Gotcha Day is sometimes called G-Day. Despite controversy, Gotcha Days are still celebrated as such among adoptive families, usually on the anniversary of that first day the child came to their new family. There are Gotcha Day greeting cards, gifts, signs—you name it. Many families see Gotcha Day as a way of celebrating a child’s adoption.

However, the term gotcha hurts many adoptive parents and children, especially because it doesn’t acknowledge the loss involved in many adoptions. They choose to use alternative expressions like Homecoming Day or Adoption Day or don’t celebrate Gotcha Day at all.

Gotcha Day is also often used in the pet rescue community to celebrate the day (and its anniversary) family brings home their new furry friend. Some pet owners might even choose to hold Gotcha Day parties for their adoptive dogs and cats. Shelters hold Gotcha Day events to encourage adoption of animals. Use of Gotcha Day for pets, very common on social media, is not considered very controversial.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of Gotcha Day like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Gotcha Day that will help our users expand their word mastery.