As Mother’s Day approaches in the UK, it seems every shop on the high street is vying for our custom. Having been in the gift trade myself, I understand only too well how important this period is to the retailer, as in terms of lucrativeness it is second only to Christmas….
There are those who would argue Mother’s Day has become far too commercialised, a fair point when the true meaning and its origins are considered. All around the World, it is celebrated in varying ways and at different times of the year but the under-lying message remains the same, to show appreciation and gratitude to the maternal figures in our lives….and in many cultures, to celebrate womankind in general….
For some countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria, Mother’s Day is combined with International Women’s Day, which falls on the 8th of March every year, globally. International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women all over the World, be it in politics, leadership, business or peace-making….it also calls for equality between the genders. Events held around the World bring together governments, charities, corporations and women’s organisations; conferences, talks, rallies and marches are held to raise awareness of women and their rights….
The earliest such gathering was held on 28th February 1909, in New York and was organised by the Socialist Party of America. The following year Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, came up with the idea for International Women’s Day. Her aim was that every country should celebrate women on one day every year, striving for their demands. In 1911 International Women’s Day was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland – demanding equal rights and the vote for women….
Russia held its first International Women’s Day in 1913. Four years later, on 8th March 1917, a demonstration of female textile workers in Petrograd, (the then capital of the Russian Empire), helped spark the beginning of the Russian Revolution. This resulted in the abdication of Nicholas II and the collapse of the government. The Provisional Government was established and women were granted the right to vote; March the 8th was declared an official holiday (although still remained a working day until 1965). Until 1975, when it became adopted by the United Nations, International Women’s Day remained mainly only observed in Communist countries. China began to acknowledge it from 1922, with Chinese women being given a half day holiday. In 1977 the United Nations General Assembly invited its member states to declare March 8th as the UN day for women’s rights and World peace….
The original aim, to achieve full gender equality for all women of the World, is still far from being realised; a persisting pay gap and a female minority in business and politics continues. Globally, education and health still lags behind that of men and violence towards women is still prevalent. If things continue the way they are today, it is predicted the gender gap will not close until 2186…. International Women’s Day raises awareness and forces the World to look at these issues, at the same time it celebrates the achievements of women of the World….
Each year the United Nations comes up with a theme to focus on. This year has just seen the 106th International Women’s Day, the theme was ‘Women in the changing World of work’. The UN Secretary General called for change “by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our World” – as a way of combating the widening economic gap between the genders and to address the balance between men and women in leadership positions….
2011 saw the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, more than 100 countries held events to mark it. In the USA, President Obama declared March as ‘Women’s History Month’ – Australia issued a new commemorative 20 cent coin…. However, not everywhere experienced such positive celebrations on the day…. In Egypt women came out to march for their rights, on arriving at Cairo’s Central Tahrir Square, they were chased away by crowds of angry men, not in agreement with the women’s demands for equality….
This only highlights the fact there is still a long way to go before women’s rights are recognised globally – but women’s determination is unabated…. In Pakistan, for example, despite cultural and religious opposition, women celebrate International Women’s Day as part of an ongoing struggle to gain equal rights….
In many countries International Women’s Day is an official holiday, in others – although not an actual public holiday – it is widely observed. Some countries celebrate by the menfolk giving the women in their lives, be it wives, mothers, daughters, even friends and work colleagues, gifts and flowers. In Italy it is the custom to give mimosa, the symbol chosen in 1946 for International Women’s Day by Teresa Mattei (an Italian partisan and politician), as the usual symbols of violets and lily-of-the-valley were too scarce and expensive in Italy. Mimosa, (along with chocolate), is now often favoured in Russia…. Italy and Portugal are among some of the countries where women often come together on the evening of the 8th to celebrate at all female dinners and parties….
In 2005 there was a call for the day to become a public holiday in Britain but to date this has not yet happened. However, each year events and rallies are held in London and around the Country….
For much of the World, Mother’s Day is a completely separate event to International Women’s Day, for some it is combined with it and there are those who do not recognise Mother’s Day at all…. For the Western World the theme is pretty much the same all over – families get together to share some quality time, Mum is spoilt and pampered (hopefully), often receiving cards, flowers and gifts…. Being a special time of celebration it is surprising to learn there have been governments in the past (and quite possibly still some today) who have tried to use Mother’s Day to enforce their own ideals and policies in order to control women….
Mother’s Day, as we know it now, is a relatively new celebration in the scheme of things….it only really first came about, in any significance, during the 1920s. Many countries choose to mark the day by following the date set by the United States, the second Sunday in May. Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) was a social activist and she lobbied the American Government to set a date in May to celebrate the occasion, (May being the month of her own mother’s death). President Wilson formalised the date and as time went on it became more popular and thus more commercialised, much to the dismay of Jarvis – “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit” ~ “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write”, was her response to the cards and gifts people opted to give….
Some of the 40+ countries who also observe Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May include:-
Australia: whose own tradition was started by Janet Heyden in 1924, after visiting a patient in a state home for women. There she came across many lonely, forgotten mothers; wanting to do something to acknowledge these women, she persuaded local businesses and school children to visit them, taking along gifts. The idea spread and Mother’s Day became adopted; chrysanthemums, (‘mum’ being an affectionate, abbreviated term for mother), are traditionally given, as May is Autumn in Australia and these blooms are in season; men often wear chrysanthemums in their lapels in honour of their mothers….
Belgium: children often make presents at school; traditionally the father will serve the mother breakfast in bed, usually croissants or similar and she is given the day off from the usual chores and gets to be pampered…. However, there are those, particularly around the Antwerp area, who celebrate the day on the 15th of August, to them the ‘classic’ Mother’s Day; they consider the May date to have been invented purely for commercial reasons….
Brazil: although not an official holiday, Mother’s Day is widely observed, by giving gifts and spending time with Mum. As with so many countries nowadays, the consumerism is second only to Christmas….
Canada: again, not an official holiday but celebrated much the same as the majority of the Western World, with cards, gifts and flowers being given to mothers, grandmothers and all important maternal female figures within the family….
China: Mother’s Day is becoming increasingly popular. In 1997 it started to be promoted as a way of helping poorer mothers in more rural areas, such as the western region. The Chinese welcome the day as it ties in well with their high regard and respect for the elderly….
Japan: The Japanese also adopted the second Sunday in May as the official day, recognising it by giving mothers flowers, particularly red carnations or roses….
Maldives: traditionally girls give their mothers cards and handmade gifts, while boys give gifts and flowers….
Germany: In the 1920s, Germany had the lowest birthrate in Europe, due to women working. In 1923 ‘Muttertag’ was imported from the States. It became a holiday to promote motherhood but in a different sense to most other countries. The German government of the time used it to encourage women to have more children and there was a wish to eliminate the rights of the working woman. ‘Die Frau’ – the newspaper of the federation of German Women’s Associations, rejected the holiday…. During the 1933-45 period, under the Nazi Party, there was an emphasis on women giving Germany healthy children, of pure ‘Aryan’ race. Mothers were told the death of a son was the ‘highest embodiment of patriotic motherhood’. The Nazis declared Mother’s Day an official holiday; in 1938 the ‘Mother’s Cross’ was issued by the government – it was awarded on Mother’s Day to those who had four children or more….
The Bolivian government passed a law in 1927 stating the date of 27th of May was to acknowledge Mother’s Day. It commemorates the Battle of Coronilla which happened 27th May 1812 during the Bolivian War of Independence; women fighting for Bolivia’s independence were slaughtered by the Spanish army. It is not a public holiday but schools hold activities throughout the day…
Spain and Portugal both celebrate Mother’s Day on the first Sunday in May. It is a family day, with gifts often made at school by the children. In Spain especially, it is also a religious day, as the month of May is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Hungary has also celebrated on this day since 1925. Romania originally only celebrated International Women’s Day but since 2010 has adopted this day and it is an official holiday….
Mexico celebrates as a family day on May the 10th. Time is spent with Mother, with the family bringing gifts of food to share together, or maybe they will visit a restaurant. Initially, from 1922, the day was marked on the second Sunday, the same as the States; the then government used it to try to promote a more conservative role in the family for women. A change of government then tried introducing new morals to Mexican women, reducing the influence of the Church. Despite efforts to promote the holiday as an important time to lay down foundations for the development of the nation, the people still saw it as a religious observance; eventually the government gave up their ideals….
France celebrates its Mother’s Day on the last Sunday in May. Attempts in 1896 and 1904 were made to create a national celebration, honouring the mothers of large families because of the worrying issue of France’s low birthrate. During World War 1, American soldiers stationed in France, brought with them the tradition of America’s Mothering Sunday, making it popular in France. So much mail was sent home by US soldiers a special postcard was made for the occasion. The French adopted this date but once again aimed it at mothers of larger families, the government made the date official in 1920. In the 1950s it became commercialised; nowadays, at a family dinner, mothers are often presented with a cake, resembling a bouquet of flowers….
Sweden first celebrated Mother’s Day in 1919, when it was initiated by the author Cecilia Baath-Holmberg. It took several decades for it to become fully recognised, as generally the Swedish people disliked the commercialism that accompanies it. The later date of the last Sunday in May was chosen as it meant plenty of flowers would be in bloom, ready to be picked. Norway, on the other hand, celebrates the second Sunday in February; the day has been embraced since 1919. Although originally recognised as a religious day , over the years it has become family orientated and more commercialised. Some children do still make gifts at school but typically mothers are served breakfast in bed and are given cards and presents….
Thailand acknowledges the day on the 12th of August, the birthday of Queen Sirikit. It was first celebrated in the 1980s as part of a campaign by Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda to promote the Royal Family….
In North Korea, Mother’s Day has been a public holiday since 2015; it is held on the 16th of November. A significant date, as in 1961 it was the day of the first National Meeting of Mothers, when Kim II-Sung published ‘The Duty of Mothers in the Education of Children’….
Indonesia celebrates on the 22nd of December and has done so since it was made an official holiday in 1953 by President Soekarno. Originally it celebrated the spirit of Indonesian women and was aimed at improving the condition of the nation. Then, during President Suharto’s New Order (1965-98), the government used Mother’s Day to try to instill the idea that women should stay at home and act in a docile manner. Its propaganda aimed at the feminist groups, inspired by Indonesian heroines of the 19th Century, who had been active in the country since 1912….
In India Mother’s Day is not observed by the majority, although in some urban areas it is becoming popular but not as a religious event. Ethiopia celebrates in mid fall, at the end of the rainy season, for a whole 3 days! A feast, ‘Antrosht’, is prepared, where a traditional hash dish is served; the children bring the ingredients, the girls supplying spices, cheese, butter and vegetables; whilst the boys bring the meat, either lamb or beef. After feasting, the mother and girls cover their faces and chests with butter and the menfolk sing….
Iran celebrates on 20 Jumada al-thani, which is the sixth month in the Islamic calendar. Generally, Mother’s Day is celebrated at the time of the Spring Equinox in the Arab World. It was first introduced to Egypt in 1956 by Mustafa Amin, a writer and journalist and has since been adopted by many Arab countries….
This is just a small sample of some of the varying celebrations and traditions held by the different cultures and countries of the World, to recognise their womenfolk. Of course, it would be impossible to mention them all here…. Somewhere in the World, nearly all year round, there are those preparing to honour their mothers…. In the UK, it is our turn this coming Sunday…. I for one, as a mum, am looking forward to a day of rest and pampering but above all, a little peace and quiet, (I should be so lucky)! Right now though, my appetite has been whetted …. I’m off to learn more about the origins of our own Mother’s Day, here in the UK….