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Mother's Day around the world

Updated: April 11, 2011 09:40 AM EDT
In Mexico, Mother's Day has been celebrated on May 10 since the early 1900s. It is one of the biggest gift-giving holidays in Latin America. (©iStockphoto.com/Aldo Murillo) In Mexico, Mother's Day has been celebrated on May 10 since the early 1900s. It is one of the biggest gift-giving holidays in Latin America. (©iStockphoto.com/Aldo Murillo)
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By Lauren Brown
Provided by WorldNow

The United States commercial market for Mother's Day has skyrocketed in recent years.  According to the Society of American Florists, 25% of all purchases of fresh flowers and plants are for Mother's Day; and Hallmark says Mother's Day is the third largest card selling holiday and second most popular gift-giving holiday after Christmas. 

So it may surprise you to find that the first efforts to establish Mother's Day in the U.S. weren't exactly successful.

After the Civil War and during the start of the Franco-Prussian War, social activist Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mother's Day Proclamation calling for peace.  She was inspired by a woman named Ann Jarvis who attempted to unite women and improve sanitation conditions through the Mothers' Work Days.  Howe's Mother's Day for Peace did not gain much of a following and her proposal to convert the July 4th festivities into a celebration of peace and mothers fell flat. 

In 1908, after Jarvis' death, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for a Mother's Day holiday.  Her Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia held the first official Mother's Day celebration and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson eventually declared the second Sunday of May the official national date for the holiday.

By the end of Anna Jarvis' life, Mother's Day was celebrated in more than 40 countries.  The carnation was Ann Jarvis' favorite flower and was present at her funeral.  The tradition has arisen of wearing a carnation, colored if the mother is living, and white if not, to honor one's mother on the holiday.  It is also common to honor Grandmothers, wives, and other important mother figures in your life.   

Here's a look at Mother's Day traditions around the world:

Central and South America

In Mexico, Mother's Day has been celebrated on May 10 since the early 1900s.  It is one of the biggest gift-giving holidays in Latin American countries.  The celebration is also tied to the Virgin of Guadalupe who is considered a symbol of motherhood.  There is a special mass for Dia de las Madres along with traditional breakfast or brunch for mothers and some sort of serenade in the morning as well in Mexico.   El Salvador and Guatemala also observe Mother's Day on May 10. 

Europe

In the United Kingdom Mother's Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.  In the 1600s, children that were working away from home as servants visited their Mother Church on Mothering Day.  They also saw their families and their mothers during this time.  Eventually the holiday began to take on a secular celebration as well.   A tradition of giving your mother a glazed cake was started.  The cake comes from a folk tale about a married couple named Simon and Nell.  When they couldn't decide whether to boil or bake a cake, they did both and invented the Simnel cake. 

In Spain and Portugal, where the holiday is more religious, people respect and remember the Virgin Mary on December 8. Children also honor their own mothers on this day.

In the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Mother's Day was tied to a three day series of holidays.  The Mother's Day cycle in Yugoslavia began with Children's Day or "Dechiyi Dan" three days before Christmas. The following Sunday was Mother's Day or "Materitse", and the Sunday after that was Father's Day or "Ochichi."  It was a three day event where in the parents and the children alternated in tying each other up.  The children had to promise to be good in order to be released and the mother offered the children treats so that she could be freed. 

Many countries celebrate Mother's Day on March 8:  Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia, to name just a few.  However, that date has other importance as well.  International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, recognizes the economic, political, and social achievements of women.  The Socialist Party of American began celebrating a National Women's Day in 1909.  The following year the Socialist International met in Copenhagen and established a Women's Day of an international nature in order to support the women's rights movement.  Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Russia are just a few of the countries that celebrate International Women's Day rather than Mother's Day. 

France celebrates Mother's Day the last Sunday in May. After WWI the holiday took shape around the desire to repopulate the country.  Medals were awarded depending on the number of children a woman had.  This springtime Sunday is referred to as La Fete des Meres, and it provides children and adults throughout France with the opportunity to make their mother the center of attention, and give her gifts and treats. Today a common gift is a cake shaped to resemble a bouquet of flowers, along with candies, flowers, cards and perfumes.  In Sweden, the Swedish Red Cross sells little plastic flowers before Mother's Day. They then use the money that they make from these flowers to help needy children and their mothers. 

In Finland Mother's Day is called aidipayiva.  The family picks flower and presents a bouquet to the mother.  A small white pungent flower called the valkovuokko is usually preferred

Asia

Some Asian countries, such as Singapore and China, follow suit with the American Mother's day tradition.  In China most names begin with a character signifying mother which honors the maternal heritage.   Other  Asian countries have their own unique traditions.  In Thailand, the celebration of the beloved queen Sirikit Kitayakara's birthday on August 12 has become a Mother's Day celebration.  Hong Kong's holiday, called mu quin jie, usually honors the parents of the mother if she is deceased.

In Japan, the name for Mother's Day is haha no hi. In the early 1900s the Japanese celebrated Mother's day according to Western custom, but this was banned during World War II. After the war, the tradition became widespread again and there were drawing contests offered for children to illustrate their mothers.  The exhibits celebrating mothers and peace toured throughout the country. 

Middle East

In Bahrain, Ruz-e Madar or Mothers' day is observed on the first Day of Spring, March 21.  This also happens in Lebanon and United Arab Emirates

In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Yaum ul-umm, is modeled after Western Mothers' Day and is marked by celebrations and feasts. 

Africa

In Ethiopia, Mother's Day occurs in mid-fall when the rainy season ends.  There is a three day feast called "Antrosht," which is part of the celebration.

South Africa celebrates Mother's Day on the first Sunday in May.

Ancient Mother Worship

The Egyptian goddess Isis was considered the mother of the gods.  She was revered as a loving wife and mother and symbol of fertility and magic.  She was revered and a cult even formed to worship her.

In ancient Greece, Rhea, "mother of the gods," was honored in the spring with honey-cakes, fine drinks, and flowers at dawn.  Her Roman counterpart, Cybele, was celebrated with games and a procession through the streets. 

The Celtic goddess Brigid, was celebrated during spring in connection to the first milk of the ewes and calves that flowed, symbolizing purity and nourishment. 

For thousands of years, In India, the Hindu people celebrate for nine days in October during a festival called Durga Puja.  This puja (or worship) celebrates Hindu goddess Durga, a warrior-like protector and mother.  It is currently the largest Hindu festival in Bengal.   

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