We’ve been celebrating Mothering Sunday in the UK since the 16th century, though the tradition has certainly transformed over the years to become the occasion we know today. Once observed as a day on which people would visit their “mother” church, the modern British incarnation of Mother’s Day is an occasion on which we honour our own mothers and thank them for all they do for us.
In the UK, Mother’s Day falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent and it is customary to give thanks with a card or gift, but what about the rest of the world? Read on to find out where the holiday originated and how people across the globe celebrate their mothers with a host of different traditions.
Festival for Mother Goddesses, Greece
The origins of this famous holiday now celebrated around the world go all the way back to Ancient Greece, where the Greeks used to hold an annual spring festival in honour of the mythological maternal goddesses. The occasion was a time to honour Rhea, the Titan daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus. Rhea was said to be the mother of the Olympian goddesses and gods.
Rhea was closely linked to the ancient Roman goddess Cybele, who was also a mother goddess. The Romans held a spring festival called Hilaria to celebrate Cybele, where they would have parades, games and masquerades in her honour.
Date: September/ October
Navratri is a major Hindu festival held in honour of the divine feminine. The festival occurs over nine days during the month of Ashvin or Ashvina (usually September-October). The length of Navratri depends on the lunar calendar, which means that on some years it can be a day shorter or longer. The nine days consist of religious reflection and fasting for some, or dancing and feasting for others. The days are spilt into thirds to celebrate 3 goddesses, Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati, with offerings and rituals performed in honour of each. As well as this traditional festival, a modern Mother’s Day is also celebrated in India on the second Sunday of May.
Mother’s Day, Egypt
Date: 21st March
Mother’s Day in Egypt is celebrated on 21st March, as this is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The tradition was introduced in Egypt by journalist Mustafa Amin in his 1943 book Smiling America. Amin had heard a story of a widowed mother who devoted her life to her son until he became a doctor, after which the son had left without showing any gratitude to his mother. From this Amin was motivated to promote Mother’s Day. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt at the time, took a while to accept this new event, but when he did the country’s first Mother’s Day was held on 21st March 1956. Other Arab countries have since followed suit and now also celebrate this tradition.
Mother’s Day, Japan
Date: Second Sunday of May
Mother’s Day in Japan first started during the Shōwa period as a celebration of the birthday of Empress Kōjun (mother of Emperor Akihito) on 6th March 1931. The celebration later became fully established alongside the organisation of the Imperial Women’s Union in 1931, when Japan began celebrating a more westernised version of the holiday. During WWII , however, the Japanese were prohibited from celebrating Western customs and Mother’s Day in the country was brought to an abrupt end.
In 1949 the holiday saw a revival and the Japanese people adopted the second Sunday of May as their Mother’s Day. Red carnations are commonly presented as a gift to mothers as they symbolise purity, sweetness and endurance, but the event is also celebrated with authentic Japanese cuisine.
Mother’s Day, Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, Mother’s Day is celebrated over three days once the rainy season has ended. During this time people celebrate with a three day feast called Antrosht, where children bring the ingredients for a traditional hash recipe. Girls bring the spices, vegetables, cheese and butter, while the boys bring a lamb or bull. Mothers then cook a delicious feast and celebrations begin after the meal has taken place. Traditions include mothers and daughters covering their faces and chests using butter, while the men sing songs honouring their family and heroes.
How are you celebrating Mother’s Day this year on Sunday 22nd March? If you haven’t yet found the perfect gift, take a look at our curated Mother’s Day gifting Edit.