Our series “Celebrating Motherhood” shares inspiring stories, helpful advice, and insightful recommendations to help you choose the perfect gifts to help you express your love for moms of all types. Many countries have unique Mother’s Day traditions, often tying in religious and cultural elements into their celebrations.
Inspired by the appreciation she felt for her own mother, American social activist Anna Reeves Jarvis wanted to find a way to honor the sacrifices all mothers make for their children. Her idea: A Mother’s Day holiday that allowed everyone to express their love and respect for the matriarchal heroes of their families.
The occasion took off, with some of the first Mother’s Day public celebrations taking place in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York in 1907 and 1908. Then, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a U.S. holiday to honor mothers.
The U.S. is not alone in setting aside a special day for honoring mothers. Many other countries have created their own ways to pay tribute to motherhood, often tying in their own unique religious and cultural traditions into the celebrations.
In Nigeria, for example, Mother’s Day Sunday is in March and celebrated in church with singing, dancing, and prayer.
While the U.K. and some churches in Nigeria host Mother’s Day in March, the Netherlands hosts Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.
Ebere Akadiri, founder, Ataro Spices/Rise and Lead Women
“Mother’s Day is a big deal in churches in Nigeria,” says Ebere Akadiri, a Nigerian native who now makes her home in the Netherlands. “Children give performances, sing the ‘Sweet Mother’ song, and everyone prays for mothers.”
“There was a particular year my children decided to make all the food and have me rest,” recalls the mother of five. “We celebrated with a lunch feast that included fried rice, dodo (fried plantain), chicken suya, and assorted drinks.”
Keeping the dates straight for Mother’s Day celebrations in different parts of the world can become a little confusing, says Akadiri, the founder of Ataro Spices and of Rise and Lead Women, a global leadership platform. “While the U.K. and some churches in Nigeria host Mother’s Day in March, the Netherlands hosts Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.” She adds that Catholic and Anglican churches in Nigeria also celebrate the holiday on different dates.
Here are six other Mother’s Day traditions around the world.
Visit cemeteries in Peru
Peruvians celebrate Mother’s Day on the second day in May, just as we do in the U.S. They also enjoy giving mom flowers, cards, and gifts in honor of the day. Here’s a twist, though: Peruvian families often gather in cemeteries on Mother’s Day to honor the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who have passed away.
Far from making these visits a solemn occasion, Peruvians socialize and enjoy food and drinks before cleaning the gravesites and decorating them with balloons, heart-shaped signs, and flowers.
Japan’s children celebrate mom with pictures
The Japanese version of Mother’s Day is almost an exact replica of the United States – it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, and moms are usually given gifts such as flowers (often red carnations or roses) and home-cooked meals. Additionally, some children will draw pictures of their moms during a classroom activity which they then enter into an art contest; this is reflective of a tradition that started back in the 1950s, where children would enter pictures of their mothers into an art contest every four years for a chance to have their work showcased across the world.
Mums for mum in Australia
Mother’s Day in Australia is also very similar to the United States. In this country, moms are honored on the second Sunday of May, and flowers are usually a person’s gift of choice. Here, carnations and chrysanthemums are the most popular – chrysanthemums because mom is called “mum.”
Children stay home for mom in Mexico
Every year, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10 in Mexico. It’s one of their biggest (and busiest) holidays regardless of the day of the week that it falls on! Like the United States, flowers are a big part of Mother’s Day in Mexico, but something unique to their traditions is that children usually make it a priority to be in the home on Mother’s Day Eve. Another unique tradition is that on the morning of May 10, mothers are often serenaded by a mariachi band with the song “Las Mananitas.”
Celebrate the Queen Mother in Thailand
Thailand celebrates Mother’s Day on Aug. 12, the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the Queen Mother. As a result, the festive day has two purposes: to honor the nation’s symbolic mother and to honor all mothers. The holiday includes public fireworks displays and candle-lighting ceremonies. A traditional way that Thai children recognize their moms is with a gift of white jasmine flowers, which symbolize the purity of a mother’s love. Many mothers visit their children’s schools, where each child kneels before their mother’s feet as a sign of respect.
Wear flowers in Haiti
Haitians celebrate Mother’s Day on the last Sunday in May. The celebrations include extended church services filled with prayers and songs to honor the sacrifices of mothers. Everyone wears a flower to honor their mother. If your mother is alive, you wear a red flower. If she passed away recently, you wear a white flower, and if you lost her many years ago, you wear a lavender flower.
Give simnel cakes in the United Kingdom
The U.K. observes the fourth Sunday of Lent (the weeks leading up to Easter) as Mothering Sunday. Although the day’s celebrations have become similar to those of the American Mother’s Day over the years, the U.K. holiday has a distinctly different origin.
Mothering Sunday began as a way for Christians to honor the Virgin Mary. Many centuries ago, the day also became part of the tradition for servants and apprentices to return each year to their home (or “mother”) church for a visit. It was customary to bring your mom a simnel cake — a light fruit cake layered with marzipan — as part of the visit. Today, flowers, candy, and cards are more typical Mothering Sunday gifts.
Germany celebrates with cards, flowers & other gifts
In Germany, “muttertag” also falls on the second Sunday in May, unless Pentecost falls on the same day; in this case, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in May. A popular German tradition today is to hand out Mother’s Day cards, flowers and other gifts, but back during World War ll, traditions had more of a political significance as they focused on recognizing women for producing children for the Fatherland. In fact, women were even awarded medals based on how many children they had in their homes.
Russia’s Mother’s Day lands in November
The official Russian Mother’s Day is held the last Sunday of November. According to a proclamation signed in 1998 by then president Boris Yeltsin, the holiday’s purpose is “to maintain the tradition of careful attitude to the woman” and “to consolidate the foundations of the family.”
However, in Soviet Russia, many people honored moms on International Women’s Day, so some of the Mother’s Day gift giving still happens In March.
Celebrate Mother’s Day in December in the Philippines
Although many Filipinos celebrate Mother’s Day in May as Americans do, the official date has been a bit of a political football going back and forth over the years.
In 1980, Former President Ferdinand Marcos declared the first Monday of December as both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. However, President Cory Aquino changed Mother’s Day to the second Sunday of May and Father’s Day to the third Sunday of June. Then, the next leader, President Joseph Estrada, changed the holiday back to December in 1998.
Filipinos, who think of mothers as the ilaw ng tahanan (the light of the home), typically honor their mothers with flowers, chocolates, and small gifts.
France fetes moms in late May
France’s Mother’s Day typically takes place on the fourth Sunday in May, unless the fourth Sunday of May overlaps with Pentecost; when this happens, Mother’s Day celebrations are delayed by one week. None other than Napoleon declared a special day to recognize mothers of large families in 1806. In 1950, Mother’s Day was officially declared a holiday. Since its inception, traditions have also very much mimicked the United States. For example, children tend to volunteer to complete certain chores for mom, and gifts such as flowers and chocolates are usually given.
What all moms love most
Over the past century since its founding, Mother’s Day has grown to become much bigger and more commercialized than Jarvis ever intended. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend more than $25 billion each year on Mother’s Day cards and gifts.
However, most mothers throughout the world will tell you that it is time away from chores and spent relaxing with family, homemade cards, and handmade gifts from their children that mean the most to them.
“My favorite Mother’s Day gift is usually the handwritten cards from my children,” says Akadiri. “They write lovely messages to celebrate me.”
So, maybe we haven’t drifted as far away from what Jarvis intended as it may seem.