Mother's Day
Mother's Day

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The answers to all of your Mother's Day questions!

Mother's Day in France and around the world

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Sunday May the 26th 2024

Mother's Day is usually celebrated in France on the last Sunday of May unless it falls on Whit Sunday or Pentecost. 

Are there any special Mother's Day traditions in France?

Since the 20th of May 1920, mayors have honoured mothers of large families with three types of ‘Family Medal’ (la Médaille de la Famille). 

You can see the three medals below: Gold medals are presented to those with an incredible eight children or more, silver for six or seven, and bronze if they have four or five. 

Since the 22nd of February 2022 this medal can also be presented to volunteers or professionals working with, and safe guarding children.

The best French phrases to know for Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day! - Bonne fête des mères !

Breakfast in bed - Petit déjeuner au lit

A gift - Un cadeau

I love you, Mum - Je t'aime, maman

Mother's Day in antiquity

In ancient Greece tribute was paid to Rhea (left picture), the daughter of Ouranos (the sky) and Gaia (the earth), as not only did she represent nature and fertility but she was also the mother of all gods. 

From the 5th century BC, the Romans turned the day into Matraliae (from the Latin word for mother - mater); a real festival during which women and mothers were celebrated and given gifts under the watchful eye of the goddess Juno (the statue on the right), the daughter of Rhea and protector of women, vital force and fertility.

The history of Mother's Day in France

The roots of Mother's Day in France take us all the way back to 1866 when the population started to decrease. By 1896 matters had not improved and so the statistician Jacques Bertillon started a natalist campaign aimed at politicians and decision makers. Following his work, in 1897 the National Alliance Against Depopulation launched the idea of a holiday to honour mothers and fathers of large families which took some time to come to fruition…

Although the village Artas claims to have celebrated the first ever Mother’s Day in France on the 10th of June 1906, the first official "Mother’s Day" was held in Lyon in 1918 to pay tribute to mothers who had lost a son in the Great War. A few years later, in 1926, the date of Mothers' Day was fixed by decree on the fourth Sunday in May.

Fifteen years later, the Marshal Pétain and the Vichy regime officially named the 25 May 1941, to be for all mothers, regardless of their number of children. Schools were encouraged to participate in the festivities and children started handmaking gifts and cards we still see today.

Skipping forward to the 24th of May 1950, President Vincent Auriol included Mother’s Day as law and set the date of the celebration for the last Sunday in May. "The French Republic officially pays tribute to French mothers each year on a day dedicated to the celebration of 'Mother's Day'.

Mother's Day Around the World

The United Nations set the official Mother's Day as the second Sunday in May.  However, unlike Christmas and Halloween, Mother's Day falls on different dates each year in different countries.

In the UK, Mother's Day, or Mothering Sunday, is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.  It can be traced way back to the 16th century when those who had moved away from their home towns would return to their “mother” church, or the church they were baptized in, for Lent.  Naturally, because the dates for Lent vary each year, so does that of Mothering Sunday.

Australia started celebrating Mother's Day in 1924 and tows the UN line on the second Sunday in May.  Recognizing that many mothers had lost sons or husbands in the First World War, Janet Heyden campaigned to give them gifts to not only recognize their loss but also show them some much needed love. Being on the other side of the planet, Australia can't use carnations during their autumn and opt for chrysanthemums instead.  

In Thailand, Mother's Day has been celebrated since 1976 on the 12th of August, the birthday of the mother of their country, Queen Sirikit.  Children donate time and money ro charities during this huge national holiday complete with fireworks and parades.  The traditional flower offered is jasmine, signifying the purity of a mother's love.

One of the saddest Mother’s Day beginnings took place in the USA...

Anna Jarvis was one of 13 children, of which only 4 survived to adulthood. After losing her own mother, and despite not having any children herself, she started a campaign to recognize the work and sacrifices of all mothers. In May 1908 she organised the first official Mother’s Day in a Methodist Church in her home town of Grafton, West Virginia. 

Following this she started a huge letter writer campaign, bombarding decision makers with telegrams and letters pressuring them to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. She wrote, printed and distributed leaflets to this end at her own expense. All this hard work paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson officially established Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.

For Anna Jarvis, Mother’s Day was to be a loving family celebration involving church services and wearing  carnations. But of course, once the day became officially recognized, businesses were quick to capitalize and by 1920 Jarvis was so disappointed with the commercialization and distortion of her original message that she openly denounced Mother’s Day and encouraged people to stop spending money on gifts and cards. 

She spent the rest of her life combatting those profiting from Mother’s Day and lobbying the government to remove it from the calendar. She died in 1948, having spent most of her personal fortune on lawsuits with groups using the name ‘Mother’s Day’.

This year (2023) Americans plan to spend a record high 35.7 billion dollars on Mother’s Day....

Read more or see a little more about Mother's Day in the USA in this short video:

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