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Mother's day across the world

Helene Waechter

Mother's day is around the corner! This day of the year when we remember very specially to pamper our mothers and grandmothers; and with all the fuss surrounding the event, beware forgetting! We cannot deny the commercial vamp around mother's day, which is why it's easy to think that this event originated only from a marketing coup. But is it really so?

Ancient origins of mother's day 

Actually no. Mother's day as we know it was instituted in the United States by feminist activists at the beginning of the last century, though this celebration finds its roots in ancient times, way, but way before our market-dominated era. 

It's in ancient Greece that we find signs of a celebration in honour of mothers. The Greeks celebrated Rhéa, mother of all gods including Zeus, and it's a cult that reached all the way to Asia Minor. In Greek mythology, Mother Rhea is the personification of natural forces. Goddess of earth and all animals, she was often represented living in the wilderness, in the mountains, escorted with lions and other wild animals; tales were told of her wild and bloody love encounters with Attis, the male god of Phrygia.

In Roman mythology, Rhea is assimilated to Cybele (see photo), named the ancestor of all gods or the Great Mother (Magna Mater), as well as Ops, goddess of wealth. All these celebrations take place during the spring, which is a time associated with fertility. The great annual celebration of Cybele involved symbolic rituals where were represented all sorts of her life events: her love encounters, her sorrow, death and resurrection, orgies, extatic dances and so much more, all this to evoke the agony and death of vegetation followed by its enchanting rebirth. Numerous groups of priests and priestesses were devoted to the cult to Cybele. 

On March 1st, first day of spring in the Roman calendar, they also celebrated Matronalia  to celebrate the foundation fo Rome, spring, children and mothers. These festivities are derived from the cult to Mars, and it was the occasion to remind the reconciliation between the Sabines and the Romans, thanks to the women who put an end to the episode of the abduction of the sabines.

Allegory of the Matronials
Allegory of the Matrionials - Marble, 1st century B.C.
(Ara Pacis Augustae Museum, Rome)

Finally, March 1st is also the date of the anointment of the temple to Juno, protector of the young brides who honor her with flowers. The name of Matronalia stems from Matrona 'mother of family'. The matronas received gifts and wealth form their husbands, which they would offer to Juno's temple with their heads crowned with flowers. 

All these celebrations take place during the spring, or the months of renewal and feritlity. And since many pagan festivities have been integrated in some way to christian traditions, it is quite possible that the first christians have first transposed Virgin Mary to the cult of the pagan goddesses, though it was harder to relate it to celebrations of fertility, possibliy the reason why these traditions have not endured the test of time. 

Mother's day celebrations in Christian traditions 

Tellus et EcclesiaCatholics and Protestants equally had forms of celebrations that some associate with a celebration of maternity. This celebration takes place the fourth sunday of lent, Laetare sunday, a latin word meaning "to rejoice", but which may also be interpreted as "to breastfeed". Laetare sunday is however known more as a pause during lent: violet makes way to pink in liturgy, flowers, the sanctuary may be ornated with flowers and organ may resonate again. 

Image: Tellus & Eccclesia; personification of Mother Earth and the Church. ancient manuscript, British Museum Library.

Since the XVth, century,  this fourth sunday of lent is named "Mothering Sunday" in England, as believers celebrated the day by going not to the closest church but to the "Mother Church", which is the cathedral, or the most prominent church in the region. Entire families could meet again there, once every year. 

Mother's day in modern times 

In the United States, it's the activist Julia Ward Howe who in 1870 initiated the proclamation of "Mother's day", inviting mothers worldwide to unite and work together for peace. But it's most of all Anna Jarvis who is  credited for the international version of mother's day as we know it. Indeed, she founded the mother 'work clubs', with the same vision of peace.  

Jarvis was very close to her mother, who died in 1905. On May 10th 1908, she organised a celebration in her Andrews Episcopal and Methodist church in her honor  "among all mothers." Ironically she could not attend and sent a telegram and 500 white carnations, a gesture that would associate this event to flowers for the first time. Up to this day, the carnation remains a symbol: white for a living mother, red for a deceased one. 

Jarvis' initiative would go on to win then president Woodrow Wilson. In 1914, he instated the second sunday of May as the national day where all Americans would express their love to their mother. The celebration slowly gained traction in Canada and many other countries, and would equally be celebrated in May, even though precise dates and traditions differ. 

Mother's day across the world 

Mother's day

Several countries in Asia celebrate mother's day in August. In Thailand, it's on August 12th, birthday of Her Majesty The Queen Sirikit, considered the mother of All. It's a national holiday during which people wear blue and the country's lit up with candles and fireworks. 

In Peru, the indigenous Andean population celebrates the gifts of Mother Earth, or Pachamama, in early August. Pachamama is an ancient mythological goddess beloved by many indigenous Andean populations. Mythology cites Pachamama as the cause of earthquakes and bringer of fertility. Her special worship day is called Martes de Challa.

In Nepal, they celebrate the memories of deceased mothers. To honour them, the tradition consists of going in pilgrimage in the lakes Mata Tirtha.

In the Middle-East, it was Mustafa Amin, Egyptian journalist who introduced mother's day in his country, drawing inspiration form the story of a widow whose sacrifices were ignored by her son after he became a doctor. Amin promoted the celebration of mother's day on March 21st, which was celebrated for the first time in 1956. (Image source HuffingtonPost)

In Ethiopia, it's at the end of the rainy season (October/November) that a large family celebration, the Anthrost, takes place. Daughters bring vegetables and cheese while sons bring the meat.

Each mother's day tradition has its history, some of which are truly remarkable. 

In India, a 10-day festival known as the Durga Puja is celebrated each October to honor Durga, the goddess of mothers. The celebration is thought to date back to the sixteenth century and is considered both a religious ceremony and a time for family reunions which are prepared for weeks with food, gifts and colourful decorations to their homes.

In ex-Yugolslavia areas, Mother’s Day takes place in December and is part of a series of holidays including Children’s Day and Father’s Day. All three holidays take place on consecutive Sundays and require lots of rope! On Children’s Day, children are tied up and must agree to behave before they are unbound. On Mother’s Day, it is the mother’s turn to be tied up, where she will remain until she supplies tasty treats and small gifts to her children. Finally it is father’s turn. The dads are tied up with rope until they give their families Christmas gifts.

In Mexico, mother’s day is a big deal. While the day may involve treating mum to dinner and flowers, the day will begin with a morning serenade of the song “Las Mananitas” from mariachi singers:“Awaken, my dear, awaken/ and see that the day has dawned/ now the little birds are singing/ and the moon has set.” Listen to this beautiful serenade:

In Bolivia, during their independance war from Spain in the 19th century, as Bolivian soldiers were decimated on the battlefields, one group of women from Cochabamba came together, and on May 27th, fought the Spanish army on Coronilla Hill. Though hundreds died in battle, the day of the "heroines of Coronilla" was instated as national Mother's day in 1920 as a tribute to these brave women's feat. 

In conclusion, even though our modern celebrations display an undeniable marketing edge, the origins of Mother's Day convey a higher level of nobility aimed at celebrating the inherent qualities of women, particularly mothers. 


So, well, ways to celebrate this day are not scarce: carnations, flowers in general, festivals, family reunions...a simple "I Love you" is often most welcome. If your choice is to offer her something special for her day, why not go for gifts that are handmade by artisans all over the world, many of whom are mothers themselves? Here at Latitudes, you will find a wealth of gift ideas form worldwide in which the topic of motherhood is celebrated through exclusive and masterful arts and crafts...some of them (our freebies) even for free...

Discover here our entire collection of inspiring gifts for your mother

Grab a free printable card on the way!
See here our collection of free printable cards,
all inspired by artwork from our site.



Mythologica.fr - Rhéa
L'Express.- Fête des mères, origines, dates, symboles...

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