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Mother's Day - how did it begin?

It's your special day - the one day of the year when you shouldn't have to worry about the washing, the shopping or what everyone is going to eat for dinner - or at least, that's the theory! This year in the UK, Mother's Day falls on March 26, but the celebrations are traditionally held at different times throughout the year in other parts of the world.

The ancient origins of Mother's Day

Motherhood has been celebrated since ancient times when special festivals were held for the 'mother goddesses', the female goddesses who had given birth to other leading deities. The ancient Egyptians had a festival to honour Isis, who was regarded as the mother of the Pharohs, in ancient Rome they had a spring festival dedicated to Cybele and the Greeks had a similar event for Rhea, who was the goddess of fertility and motherhood. There was also a Celtic festival for the goddess Brigid, celebrating the arrival of Spring.

Mothering Sunday in the UK

In the UK Mother's Day falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and it is traditionally called 'Mothering Sunday'. It has been celebrated for more than four hundred years, and was originally a day when people would go back to their 'mother' church rather than their local parish church. Those who were in service, or who were apprentices, were allowed to go back home to their families on this day, and they often took presents for their mothers such as flowers or cake. The traditional cake baked for Mothering Sunday was a Simnel cake, which is now associated with Easter rather than Mother's Day. The day was also sometimes known as 'Refreshment Sunday' because the celebration meant that the Lent rules about fasting were relaxed and people would eat a special meal. Sometimes they had a dish of wheat boiled in milk with sugar and spices.

Today, we still give flowers and small gifts, and families try to make Mothering Sunday a special day for mothers. Many churches hold services to celebrate. Although we tend to refer to Mothering Sunday as Mother's Day, the origins of the two are very different.

Mother's Day in the United States

Mother's Day celebrations today in the US are generally attributed to the efforts of two women, Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis. Julia Ward Howe was a writer and campaigner, and the mother of six children. She became distressed by the devastation of the American Civil War, despite the fact that she was famous for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, one of the most popular songs of the war and still sung today. She became a pacifist and was active in the women's suffrage movement. In 1870 she wrote a declaration calling on women to oppose war, and proposing a national day to celebrate peace and motherhood, but this never really took off.
Anna Jarvis started campaigning for a national day for women in the early 1900s. She organised a service to pay tribute to her own mother, who had worked to support poor women during the Civil War, at a local church. Anna Jarvis handed out white carnations, which had been her mother's favourite flower, and carnations have been associated with Mother's Day ever since. She began lobbying businessmen and politicians to get support for her idea and the first national Mother's Day was declared in 1914. Anna Jarvis was horrified at the way Mother's Day became commercialised, and in her later years she campaigned against this.
Today Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in the United States and mothers are treated by their families with cards and presents. It's a day when restaurants are often full as mothers are often taken out to dinner so that they don't have to cook.

Mother's Day around the World

Most countries around the world hold some kind of special celebration for mothers.
In France, it is called La Fete des Meres and it dates back to Napoleonic times. Now it is celebrated on the last Sunday in May. Mothers get cards and presents, and there's usually a large family dinner.
In Norway Mother's Day is celebrated in February, whilst in Sweden it is in May. The Swedish Red Cross sell little flowers in the street on the days leading up to Mother's Day to raise money to help mothers in need.
In Japan, children traditionally give their mothers red carnations for Mother's Day, which is known as haha no hi and celebrated in May. They may also give other presents such as scarves or handbags. Mother's Day was first celebrated in Japan in the early 1900s, but was banned during the Second World War along with other Western customs. After the war, Mother's Day was introduced again, and it is popular today. Children sometimes draw portraits of their mothers for Mother's Day as an annual exhibition of these pictures was established. Families often have a special meal where they cook traditional dishes passed down from their mothers.
In India, Mother's Day is a relatively new celebration with gifts, cards and presents given in May. It is celebrated more in cities and big towns than in the countryside. However, a more traditional Hindu festival called Durga Puja, or the Festival of the Divine Mother, takes place in parts of India. It is a celebration of Durga, the mother of many of the main gods and goddesses, and children give their own mothers presents at this time.
And finally you may want to feel thankful that you don't live in the former Yugoslavia where mothers were expected to give their children presents on Mother's Day!

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