Mother’s Day is a celebration that honors mothers and motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in March, April, or May. It complements Father’s Day, a celebration honoring fathers.
Celebrations of mothers and motherhood occur throughout the world. Many of these trace back to ancient festivals, like the Greek cult to Cybele, the Roman festival of Hilaria, or the Christian Mothering Sunday celebration. However, the modern holiday is an American invention and not directly descended from these celebrations. Despite this, in some countries Mother’s Day has become synonymous with these older traditions.
In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association.
She was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.
This is also the spelling used by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in the law making official the holiday in the United States, by the U.S. Congress on bills, and by other U.S. presidents on their declarations.
Common usage in English language also dictates that the ostensibly singular possessive “Mother’s Day” is the preferred spelling, although “Mothers’ Day” (plural possessive) or “Mothers Day” (plural non-possessive) are sometimes used.
Some countries already had existing celebrations honoring motherhood, and their celebrations have adopted several external characteristics from the American holiday, like giving carnations and other presents to your own mother.
The extent of the celebrations varies greatly. In some countries, it is potentially offensive to one’s mother not to mark Mother’s Day. In others, it is a little-known festival celebrated mainly by immigrants, or covered by the media as a taste of foreign culture.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the holiday is strongly associated with reverencing the Virgin Mary. In many Catholic homes, families have a special shrine devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a special prayer service is held in honor of the Theotokos Virgin Mary.
In Hindu tradition it is called “Mata Tirtha Aunshi” or “Mother Pilgrimage fortnight”, and it is celebrated in countries with Hindu population, especially in Nepal. It is celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Baisakh, i.e., April/May. This holiday is based in Hindu religion and it pre-dates the creation of the Western-inspired holiday by at least a few centuries.
Mother’s Day in most Arab countries is celebrated on 21 March. It was introduced in Egypt by journalist Mustafa Amin in his book Smiling America (1943). The idea was overlooked at the time, but when Amin heard the story of a widowed mother who devoted her whole life to raise her son until he became a doctor, got married and left without showing her any gratitude, Amin became motivated to promote for “Mother’s Day”. The idea was first ridiculed by president Gamal Abdel Nasser but he eventually accepted it and Mother’s Day was first celebrated on 21 March 1956. The practice has since been copied by the other Arab countries.
When Mustafa Amin was arrested and imprisoned, there were attempts to change the name of the holiday from “Mother’s Day” to “Family Day” as the government wished to prevent the occasion from reminding people of its founder. These attempts were unsuccessful and celebrations continued to be held on that day; classic songs celebrating mothers remain famous to this day.
Israeli Arabs (about 20% of the population) celebrate Mother’s Day on 21 March, similar to other Arab countries.
In Jordan Mother’s Day is observed and celebrated on 21 March, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.
Mother’s Day in Lebanon is celebrated on 21 March, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.
In Argentina it is celebrated on the third Sunday of October. It was first celebrated in 11 October, the old liturgical date for the celebration of Virgin Mary (after the Second Vatican Council the Virgin Mary festivity was moved to 1 January). Around 1982, the national merchants asked that it was moved to the third Sunday of October to reactivate sales in the second half of that month.
In Australia, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It is not a public holiday, nor is it known as a holiday.
The tradition of gift giving to mothers on Mother’s Day in Australia was started by Mrs Janet Heyden, a resident of Leichhardt Sydney, in 1924. She began the tradition during a visit to a patient at the Newington State Home for Women, where she met many lonely and forgotten mothers. To cheer them up, she rounded up support from local school children and businesses to donate and bring gifts to the women. Every year thereafter, more support was raised by Mrs Heyden with local businesses and even the local Mayor. The day has since become commercialized. Traditionally, the Chrysanthemum is given to mothers for mother’s day as the flower is naturally in season during Autumn and ends in ‘mum’, a common affectionate shortening of ‘mother’ in Australia.
In Bangladesh, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of the month of May. In observance of the day discussion programs are organized by government and non-governmental organizations. Reception programs, cultural programs are organized to mark the day in the Capital city. Television channels aired special programs and newspapers published special features and column to mark the day. Greeting cards, flowers and gifts featuring mother’s specialty to the children were on high demand at the shops and markets.
In Brazil, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May.
The first Mother’s Day in the country was promoted by Associação Cristã de Moços de Porto Alegre (Young Men’s Christian Association of Porto Alegre), on 12 May 1918. In 1932, the then-President Getulio Vargas made official the date on the second Sunday of May. In 1947, Archbishop Jaime de Barros Chamber, Cardinal-Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, determined that this date was also included in the official calendar of the Catholic Church.
The 8th of March in Bulgaria is associated with the International Women’s Day. Usually the holiday is honouring the Woman as a human being and also as an equal partner.
Another Bulgarian holiday related to the Family and the Maternity is called Babinden (in Bulgarian) and is celebrated on 8 January.
The day is becoming more popular in China, and carnations are a very popular gift and the most sold type of flower. In 1997 it was set as the day to help poor mothers, specially to remind people of the poor mothers in rural areas such as China’s western region. In the People’s Daily, the Chinese government’s official newspaper, an article explained that “despite originating in the United States, people in China accept the holiday without hesitation because it is in line with the country’s traditional ethics – respect for the elderly and filial piety towards parents.”
Czech Republic celebrated Women’s Day until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. After the split of the country in 1993, the Czech Republic started celebrating Mother’s Day and Saint Valentine’s Day. However, the Czechs saw those two celebrations as commercialized and artificial, and they had mild popularity. Nowadays, the sales of flowers for Women’s Day are approaching those for Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day.
In Estonia Mother’s Day (emadepäev in Estonian) is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. It is recognized nationally, but not a public holiday.
In France, alarmed by the low birth rate, there had been attempts in 1896 and 1904 to make a national celebration honoring the mothers of large families. American World War I soldiers fighting in France popularized the US holiday created by Ann Jarvis; they sent so much mail back to their country for Mother’s Day that the Union franco-américaine created a postal card for that purpose. In 1918, also inspired by Jarvis, the town of Lyon wanted to celebrate a “journée des Mères”, but it finally decided to celebrate a “Journée Nationale des Mères de familles nombreuses,” which was more inspired by the anti-depopulation efforts than the US holiday, with medals being awarded to the mothers of large families. The French government officialised the day in 1920 as a day for mothers of large families. Since 1920 it awards the Médaille de la Famille française to mothers of big families.
In 1941, by initiative of Philippe Pétain, the wartime Vichy government used the celebration as part of their policy to encourage larger families; but all mothers were now being honored, even the ones who had small families. The law of 24 May 1950 required that the Republic pay official homage to French Mothers on the last Sunday in May as the “Fête des Mères” (except when Pentecost fell on that day, in which case it was moved to the first Sunday in June). A budget was provided for the celebration in 1956, and responsibility was transferred to the Minister responsible for Families in 2004.
During the 1950s the celebration lost all its patriotic and natalist ideologies, and became heavily commercialized.
The holiday was now seen as a means to get the women to bear more children, and nationalists saw it as a way of rejuvenating the nation. The holiday did not celebrate the individual women, but an idealized standard of motherhood. The progressive forces resisted the implementation of the holiday because it was backed by so many conservatives, and because they saw it as a way to cut the rights of the worker women. Die Frau, the newspaper of the Federation of German Women’s Associations, refused to even recognize the holiday. Many local authorities made their own interpretation of the holiday: it would be a day to support economically larger families or single-mother families. The guidelines for the subsidies had eugenics criteria, but there is no indication that social workers ever implemented them in practice, and subsidies were given preferentially to families in economic needs rather than families with more children or with “healthier” children.
With the Nazi party in power during 1933–1945, this all changed radically. The propaganda for Mother’s Day had increased in many European countries, including the UK and France, and Nazis increased it from the moment they entered into power. The role of mothers was unambiguously promoted as that of giving healthy children to the German nation. The Nazi party’s intention was to create a pure “Aryan race” according to nazi eugenics. Among other Mother’s Day ideas, the government promoted the death of a mother’s sons in battle as the highest embodiment of patriotic motherhood.
The Nazis quickly declared Mother’s Day an official holiday and put it under the control of the NSV (National Socialist People’s Welfare Association) and the NSF (National Socialist Women Organization). This brought conflicts with other organizations that resented Nazi control of the holiday, like the Catholic and the Protestant churches and local women organizations. Local authorities continuously resisted the guidelines from the Nazi government and kept assigning resources to families that were in economical need, much to the dismay of the Nazi officials.
Mother’s Day in Greece is celebrated the second Sunday of May.
In Hungary, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday of May. First time was celebrated in 1925 by Hungarian Red Cross Youth.
Mother’s day (Indonesian: Hari Ibu) is celebrated nationally on 22 December. It is the day of the first Indonesian Women Congress (Indonesian: Kongres Perempuan Indonesia) from 22 to 25 December 1928. The meeting took place in a building called Dalem Jayadipuran that now serves as the office of the Center of History and Traditional Values Preservation (Indonesian: Balai Pelestarian Sejarah dan Nilai Tradisional) in Brigjen Katamso Street, Yogyakarta. It was attended by 30 feminist organizations from 12 cities in Java and Sumatra. In Indonesia, feminist organizations have existed since 1912, inspired by Indonesian heroines of the 19th century, e.g., Kartini, Martha Christina Tiahahu, Cut Nyak Meutia, Maria Walanda Maramis, Dewi Sartika, Nyai Ahmad Dahlan, Rasuna Said, etc.
The idea of making an official day was started during the third Indonesian Women Congress in 1938. It was signed by President Soekarno under the Presidential Decree (Indonesian: Dekrit Presiden) no. 316 year 1959. The day originally aimed to celebrate the spirit of Indonesian women and to improve the condition of the nation. Today, Mother’s Day is celebrated by expressing love and gratitude to mothers. People present gifts to mothers, such as flowers, hold surprise parties and competitions such as cooking competition or kebaya wearing competition. People also allow mothers to have a day off from doing domestic chores.
It is celebrated on Shevat 30 of the Jewish calendar, which falls anywhere between the 30th of January and the 1st of March. It was set to the same day as the day Henrietta Szold died. Henrietta had no biological children, yet her organization Youth Aliyah rescued many Jewish children from Nazi Germany and provided for them, she also championed several children’s rights. She is considered the “mother” of all those children, and that is why her Yahrtzeit ( annual remembrance day ) was set as Mother’s Day. It has evolved over time, becoming a celebration of mutual love inside the family and it is called Family Day. It is only celebrated by children at kindergartens, there are no longer mutual gifts among members of the family, and there is no longer any commercialization of the celebration. It is not an official holiday either.
Mother’s Day has been assimilated into Indian culture, and it is celebrated on every year on second Sunday of May.
Mother’s Day in Italy was celebrated for the first time on 12 May 1957, in the city of Assisi, thanks to the initiative of Rev, Otello Migliosi, parish priest of the Tordibetto church. This celebration was so successful that the following year it was adopted throughout Italy, where since then it is usually celebrated on the second Sunday in May.
Mother’s Day in Japan was initially commemorated during the Shōwa period as the birthday of Empress Kōjun (mother of Emperor Akihito) on March 6. This was established in 1931 when the Imperial Women’s Union was organized. In 1937, the first meeting of “Praise Mothers” was held on May 8, and in 1949 Japanese society adopted the second Sunday of May as the official date. Nowadays it is a rather commercial holiday, and people typically give flowers such as red carnations and roses as gifts.
The first mention of Mother’s Day in Malta occurred during the Radio Children’s Programmes run by Frans H. Said in May 1961. Within a few years, Mother’s Day has become one of the most popular dates in the Maltese calendar. In Malta, this day is commemorated on the second Sunday in May. Mothers are invariably given gifts and invited for lunch, usually at a good restaurant.
“Mata Tirtha Aunshi”, translated as “Mother Pilgrimage fortnight”, falls in the month of Baishak dark fortnight (April/May). This festival falls in the dark moon’s time, which is why this called “Mata Tirtha Aunshi” derived from words: “Mata” meaning mother; “Tirtha” meaning pilgrimage. This festival is observed in the commemoration and respect of the mother, which is celebrated by worshipping and gifting living mother or remembering mothers who have passed away. Going to Mata Tirtha Pilgrimage, located towards the eastern side Kathmandu valley at Mata Tirtha Village development committee’s periphery, is another tradition common in Nepal. Previously, people especially from Newar communities and people living in the valley used to celebrate it. Now, this festival is being celebrated by widespread communities.
There is a legend regarding this pilgrimage site. In ancient times Lord Krishna’s mother Devaki wandered out of her house to sight-see. She visited many places and delayed her return to her house. Lord Krishna was very concerned because of her disappearance. So, he set out to find her. After a long and arduous search he found her. When he reached “Mata Tirtha Kunda”, he happened to see his mother taking bath there, in the spouts of that pond. Lord Krishna was ecstatic when he found her and narrated all of the tragedies that had befallen him in her absence. Mother Devaki said to lord Krishna, “Oh! Son Krishna let then, this place be the pious rendezvous for children to meet their departed mothers”. So, according to legends, since then this place has become a holy pilgrimage site, where people come to pay respect to their deceased mothers. Legend also holds that once a girl saw the image of her deceased mother inside the pond and she jumped into the pond to join her mother in death. Till this day, there is a small pond fenced by the iron bars, where it is believed that the aforementioned tragedy occurred.
In Pakistan, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. In Pakistan, Mother’s Day is celebrated with various media channels having special shows to celebrate this day. Individuals honor their mothers by giving gifts and commemorative articles. Individuals who have lost their mother pray and pay their respects to their loved ones lost.
In Panama it is celebrated on 8 December, the same day as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This date was suggested in 1930 by the wife of Panama’s President Florencio Harmodio Arosemena, and it was passed as Law 69 in the same year.
According to other account, the Rotary Club of Panama asked in 1924 that Mother’s Day be celebrated on 11 May to honor mothers, but a politician called Aníbal D. Ríos changed the proposal, so that it would be held on 8 December, and he made it into a national holiday.
Mother’s day in the Philippines is celebrated every second Sunday of May. A Filipino mother is called the “light of the household” around which all activities revolve. Families treat mothers to lunch or dinner out, spend time with them in a park, shopping at the mall, watching movies, or giving her time to pamper herself. Most families typically celebrate at home. Children perform most chores that the mother routinely does, prepare food or give their mums small handcrafted tokens such as cards.
Although in its current form it is not a traditional Filipino holiday, this and Father’s Day owe their popularity to American influence.
In Poland, “Dzień Matki” (“Mother’s Day”) is celebrated on May 26.
In Portugal, the “Dia da Mãe” (“Mother’s Day”, literally) is an unofficial holiday held each year on the first Sunday of May (sometimes coinciding with Labour Day).
Mother’s day in Thailand is celebrated on the birthday of the Queen of Thailand, Queen Sirikit (12 Aug). It started being celebrated around the 1980s as part of the campaign by the Prime Minister of Thailand Prem Tinsulanonda to promote Thailand’s Royal family. Father’s Day is celebrated on the King’s birthday.
Turkey celebrates the Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.
By 1935 Mothering Sunday was less celebrated in Europe. There were efforts to revive the festival in the 1910s–1920s by Constance Penswick-Smith, but it was not revived until US World War II soldiers brought the Mother’s Day celebrations to the UK, and it was merged with the Mothering Sunday traditions still celebrated in the Church of England. By the 1950s it had become popular in the whole of the UK, thanks to the efforts of UK merchants, who saw in the festival a great commercial opportunity. People from Ireland and UK started celebrating Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday of Lent, the same day on which Mothering Sunday had been celebrated for centuries. Some Mothering Sunday traditions were revived, such as the tradition of eating cake on that day, although they now eat simnel cake instead of the cakes that were traditionally prepared at that time.The traditions of the two celebrations have now been mixed up, and many people think that they are the same thing.
Mothering Sunday can fall at the earliest on 1 March (in years when Easter Day falls on 22 March) and at the latest on 4 April (when Easter Day falls on 25 April).
For many people in the United Kingdom, Mother’s Day is the time of year to celebrate and buy gifts of chocolate or flowers for their mothers as a way to thank them for what they do throughout the year.
Nine years after the first official United States Mother’s Day, commercialization of the holiday became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become and spent all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration.
Later commercial and other exploitations of the use of Mother’s Day infuriated Jarvis and she made her criticisms explicitly known the rest of her life. She criticized the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and she finally said that she “wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control …”.
Mother’s Day continues to be one of the most commercially successful U.S. occasions.
It is possible that the holiday would have withered over time without the support and continuous promotion of the florist industries and other commercial industries. Other Protestant holidays from the same time, like Children’s Day and Temperance Sunday, do not have the same level of popularity. Mother’s Day is also prominent in the Sunday comic strips in the newspapers of the United States, ranging from sentimental to wry to caustic.