Vita Gazette

News from Italy

Mother’s Day, the story

di Adriana Nora

Mother’s Day is an anniversary, always celebrated on the second Sunday of May. May is the month that the Catholic religion dedicates to the Madonna, mother of all mothers, but it is also the month of spring and the explosion of flowers to give to mothers.

The origin of Mother’s Day is very ancient. Its history begins in the times of the Greeks and Romans, who held parties in honour of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. Still, for some experts, the most apparent precedent linked to Mother’s Day is probably the early Christian holiday known as “Maternity Sunday”. Furthermore, May was and still is the month of spring, of the explosion of flowers, of rebirth; for the Catholic religion, it is the month dedicated to the Madonna, mother of all mothers.

Nowadays, like Easter, Mother’s Day has a variable date. In Italy, until a few years ago, the celebrations were on May 8 (the Marian month par excellence, dedicated to the cult of the Madonna, mother of all mothers). Now, however, they have moved to the second Sunday of May.

Italian mothers

Mother’s Day arrived in Italy in 1933, during fascism, when “Mother and Child Day” was celebrated on December 24. From that moment on, every Christmas Eve, mothers are honoured for propaganda reasons: they were the expression of the birth policy of the fascist regime, and on this occasion, the most prolific ones were rewarded. Only after the war, even in Italy, did Mother’s Day take on a less propagandistic character. And in the second half of the 1950s, two Mother’s Days began to spread: one organised by the parish priest of a hamlet of Assisi for religious reasons, to celebrate motherhood in its Christian value; the other in Liguria, for commercial reasons, promoted by florists. Both were honoured in May, a month dedicated to the Madonna for the former and a period full of flowers for the latter. Since 1959, the festival has taken hold and been celebrated for several years on May 8 before moving on to the second Sunday.

To trace Mother’s Day’s origins in the modern era, we must go back to 1858 the United States.

Ann Reeves Jarvis of Culpeper County, Virginia, organised Mother’s Day Work Clubs to improve the poor health conditions in her community and stem high infant mortality rates. Ten years later, she coordinated a special Mothers’ Friendship Day in West Virginia to reunite former enemies on the battlefield in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Around 1870, the pacifist activist, suffragette and poet Julia Ward Howe proposed establishing a special day for mothers in the United States. 1872 Howe campaigned for a special Mother’s Day in Boston to support world peace. The initiative met with some success and continued elsewhere in the following years, but it faded away in the end, close to the First World War. As part of the history linked to the origins of the modern-day anniversary, Juliet Calhoun Blakely is also remembered as an activist who inspired the creation of a Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. In 1887, a Kentucky teacher named Mary Towles Sasseen started annual local celebrations. About 1904, Frank E. Hering, Indiana, was a promoter within his territory.

And a commemoration in honour of the mother

On the second Sunday of May 1905, Ann Reeves Jarvis died in Philadelphia, where she and her family had moved. In 1907, on the second Sunday in May of that year and on the second anniversary of Jarvis’ death, one of her surviving daughters, Anna Jarvis, organised a small memorial service in honour of her deceased mother at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Then, in 1908, the first formal commemoration of Mother’s Day took place, again on the second Sunday of May and in the same church in Grafton, as well as a more significant ceremony in Philadelphia. Jarvis had white carnations distributed to Grafton’s mothers, sons and daughters. In 1910, the governor of West Virginia established that Mother’s Day would be held on the second Sunday in May. Two years later, Anna Jarvis did her best to create the International Association for Mother’s Day and raise awareness among institutions on the topic at a national level. “She wanted Mother’s Day to be a very private recognition of everything a mother does for her family,” said Katharine Antolini, a history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, as the ‘Today’ newspaper reported. 1914, American President Thomas Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official national holiday. In 1915, the celebrations also became official in Canada. Ann Jarvis later began to see that the occasion was degenerating into consumerism, with the flower, card and candy industries working hard to take advantage of the occasion, and she tried to combat this commercial aspect, which diverted attention from the intimate meaning and deprived of the party.

Mother’s Day, dates around the world:

In France, the holiday, Fête des Mères, has been around since 1950 and is held on the fourth Sunday of May, but if the day coincides with Pentecost, another holiday, it is postponed to June. In England, Mother’s Day is a tradition that has been going on since the 17th century, inspired by the “Mothering Sunday” of medieval times: many children lived away from their families to do apprenticeships and learn a trade. But on Sunday rest, they returned home to hug their mother again. In the United Kingdom, this celebration usually falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent, three weeks before Easter Sunday. In Thailand, mothers are celebrated on August 12, in Belarus on October 14, in Norway on the second Sunday of February and in Poland on May 26. Celebrations occur on the first Sunday in May in the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain.

  • Second Sunday of February: Norway
  • March 8: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania
  • Fourth Sunday of Lent: Ireland, United Kingdom
  • March 21: Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palau, Jordan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Morocco
  • April 7: Armenia
  • First Sunday of May: Angola, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain
  • May 8: South Korea
  • May 10: most of South America, India, Mexico, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar
  • Second Sunday of May: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malta, Malaysia, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Turkey, United States, Venezuela
  • Last Sunday of May: France, Sweden, Dominican Republic, Haiti
  • August 12: Thailand
  • August 15: Costa Rica
  • Third Sunday of October: Argentina
  • Last Sunday of November: Russia
  • December 8: Panama
  • December 22: Indonesia
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