Mother’s Day is not just another Hallmark holiday. Behind the flowers, gifts and cards are centuries of fascinating tradition and history. In this article, we discover the world’s most ancient celebration of motherhood in Nepal, find out who the “mother of Mother’s day” was, and learn why British Mothering Sunday had to be established not just once, but twice!
It all started with an ancient Nepalese celebration of motherhood
One of the longest standing traditions that honours motherhood is a Hindu festival called Mata Tirtha Aunshi. Meaning ‘Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight’, it has been celebrated for many centuries. Today, it is still a custom in Nepal. It takes place every April or May during the new moon.
What happens during Mata Tirtha Aunshi?
For the Nepalese people, Mata Tirtha Aunshi is a time to visit and honour their mothers. On a larger scale, it a recognition of the importance of mothers in society. During this time adult children usually travel home to visit their mothers, bringing gifts. Those whose mothers have passed away perform a special bathing and prayer ritual and leave offerings in a temple.
The goddesses of motherhood in ancient Greece and Rome
In Europe, the earliest known motherhood festivals date back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks dedicated a spring festival to Rhea, mother to many gods found in Greek mythology. In Rome, a cult feast called Hilaria was held in honour of Cybele, the goddess of motherhood and nature.
The Catholic Church and Virgin Mary
When Christianity began to spread through Europe, the Catholic Church adopted many pagan festivals and turned them into Christian celebrations.
Among these was the motherhood festival that had originated in Rome and Greece. The Catholic Church changed it into a celebration to honour their own holy mother, the Virgin Mary. It became known as Mothering Sunday and was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Mothering Sunday arrives in Britain
Thanks to the Christian church, by the 17th century, Mothering Sunday had become a well-established religious custom in Britain. Wealthy households would send their servants home on that day to visit their mothers, and it was customary for children to bring their mother a ‘mothering cake’, later known as the Easter Simnel Cake.
Sadly though, by the end of the 19th century, the tradition had been lost. Had it not been for two very determined ladies across the Atlantic, this special holiday might never have been celebrated in the UK again.
Mother’s Day – lost and found
Anna Jarvis, often referred to as the Mother of Mother’s Day, was an American social activist during the beginning of the 1900s
She was influenced by her own mother who had witnessed the sacrifices made by women during the tough years of the American Civil War, and who, as her dying wish, had hoped for a future national day of celebration to honour all mothers.
President Woodrow Wilson approves Mother’s Day in the USA
After her mother passed away, Anna Jarvis wrote many letters to powerful people, campaigning for her mother’s cause. In 1914 she was finally rewarded when President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday in May as the official Mother’s Day in the US.
Mother’s Day returns to the UK
As a result of Anna Jarvis’ work, Mothering Sunday became one of the most popular remembrance days in the USA. After World War II, American servicemen brought the custom over to Britain with them – along with commercial enterprises like selling carnations, which had been Anna Jarvis’ mother’s favourite flower.
Now, Mother’s Day is a custom all over the world, including in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, India, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Italy, Turkey, China and Mexico.
What are the international dates for Mother’s Day?
Here are some more 2022 Mother’s Day dates from around the world:
27th March 2022 – United Kingdom, Ireland – as well as Nigeria, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man (coincides with the fourth Sunday of Lent)
8th May 2022 – USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – as well as Germany, Brazil, China, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, India, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Switzerland
13th February 2022 – Norway
8th March 2022 – Macedonia, Moldova (coincides with International Women’s Day)
21st March 2022 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates
1st May 2022 – Spain, Portugal
10th May 2022 – Mexico
11th May 2022 – Nepal (coincides with Mata Tirtha Aunsi festival)
22nd May 2022 – Israel
29th May 2022 – France, Morocco, Sweden
27th November 2022 – Russia
Mother’s Day is a beautiful tradition
So there you have it. It’s true that retailers get a lot of custom for Mother’s Day and, at first glance, it may seem like just another Hallmark holiday. But the Mother’s Day customs we have today are, in fact, simply the modern way of celebrating motherhood.
According to Anna Jarvis, Mother’s Day was a way of honouring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. Today, the flowers, gifts and cards we give our mothers are a way of appreciating her with a tangible symbol of love – and telling her ‘I love you mum’.
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