Mother’s Day isn’t a modern event dreamt up by greetings cards companies. It dates back at least as far as the Middle Ages, when there was a day to honour the Virgin Mary, also known as Mother Mary. This included a custom of going home to visit a person’s home or ‘mother’ church, and their actual mother.
This was a more important custom than it might appear. Children were typically sent away to work as young as ten years old, often into domestic service, farm work or apprenticeships. It must have been incredibly special to have had an opportunity to go home and see their family.
The day for this was the fourth Sunday of Lent, and that day became Mothering Sunday. Its popularity has increased since World War II, when soldiers felt it especially important to contact their mother while away from home.
Earlier Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to ancient Greece, with the celebrations of Rhea, the mother of the gods and goddesses; and ancient Rome, where the mother goddess of Cybele was celebrated.
Mother’s Day around the world
Mother’s Day is celebrated outside of the UK of course, but usually at different times of the year. In many countries, including the USA, Canada, most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan, the Philippines and South Africa, it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May.
This Mother’s Day has a completely different origin. In 1907, an American woman called Anna Jarvis held a small memorial service for her mother on 12 May. By 1914 it had been made a national holiday.
Many East European countries celebrate Mother’s Day on 8 March, which is International Women’s Day, while Norway marks the day on the second Sunday of February. Meanwhile, it’s on the 21 March, the spring equinox, in many countries, including Egypt, Iraq and Libya; and on 26 May (my birthday!) in Poland.
WORDS Richard Groom