In Depth

When is Mother’s Day 2021? Traditions from around the world and origins

A look at the history of Mothering Sunday and the different customs

Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world at different times of the year.

In the United States, the annual celebration of “moms” takes place on the second Sunday of May, while in France the Fete des Meres falls on the last Sunday of May. In the UK, however, Mothering Sunday is held on the fourth Sunday of Lent – 14 March this year.

What is the origin of Mother’s Day?

The first ever movement for the recognition of motherhood arose from the groups for women whose sons had fought in the American Civil War. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson decreed the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. It spread to Europe in the aftermath of the First World War, when many women had lost their sons or husbands, leaving them to raise their children alone.

Most countries adopted the US timing and it still remains the most popular date for Mother’s Day across the globe. The origins of the British date are a little more complicated. Some believe Mothering Sunday originally derived from a 16th-century practice of visiting the “mother church” - the main church in the region - on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. This was also when domestic servants were given time off to visit their families.

In 1920, inspired by the new US holiday, Briton Constance Smith published a booklet entitled The Revival of Mothering Sunday and by 1938, the day “was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire”, church historian Cordelia Moyse tells the Daily Telegraph. Today, it is more commonly referred to as Mother’s Day, but it is still officially known as Mothering Sunday.

Mother’s Day traditions

It was customary for people in Britain to cook their mothers a simnel cake – a type of light fruit cake with two layers of marzipan – on Mothering Sunday because it falls in the middle of Lent and so represents a relaxation of the fasting rules. For this reason, the day was also traditionally called Refreshment Sunday.

Simnel cakes, which are also associated with Easter, traditionally feature 11 balls of marzipan icing representing 11 of the 12 disciples (Judas is usually left out, except in extraordinarily forgiving Christian households). Today, gifts of flowers or chocolates are more usual.

Mother’s Day abroad

Many countries around the world have developed their own traditions for celebrating mothers.

Parts of India celebrate the Western version of Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. However, Hindus in India celebrate the goddess Durga, or Divine Mother, in October with a 10-day festival. Named Durga Puga, the festivities celebrate the triumph of good over evil which is symbolised through the exchange of gifts with family and friends.

Mother’s Day celebrations in Mexico take place on 10 May. Churches in Mexico hold a special mass in honour of Mother’s Day, which is often followed by a community breakfast. Some families hire mariachi bands to wake their mothers with a song on the special day.

Mother’s Day in Ethiopia is celebrated with a three-day celebration mid-autumn. This days-long feast is known as Antrosht. Children will often supply the ingredients for a traditional hash recipe that contains cheese, lamb, vegetables, butter and spices. The mother then prepares the hash. After the meal is finished, the mothers and daughters will ritually rub each other’s faces with butter. The rest of the night is spent with the family singing and dancing.

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