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Mother's Day Traditions Around the World

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The first official Mother’s Day in the U.S. took place in May 1908, when a woman named Anna Jarvis held a celebration in honor of her late mother’s life. In the following years, as similar celebrations began to gain popularity in many states, Jarvis advocated for a national holiday honoring motherhood. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson honored her request by declaring that the second Sunday of May would officially be known as Mother’s Day. It soon became customary for maternal figures in the U.S. to be showered with flowers, greeting cards, and gifts to mark the occasion.

While traditional celebrations honoring motherhood date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, in the 20th century, many countries around the world followed America’s lead and established an official Mother’s Day holiday. However, the origins of each holiday, the date it is celebrated, and the ways in which mothers are honored differ around the globe. Here are some of the most unique Mother’s Day traditions in other countries.

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Ethiopia: Antrosht

African mother and two children walk on a red clay road in a village in Ethiopia.
Credit: davide bonaldo/ Shutterstock

Mother’s Day in Ethiopia is determined by the weather. The celebration, known as Antrosht, has no set date; instead, it takes place when the rainy season ends, typically in October or November.

Children who no longer live at home make the trek back for the three-day affair and bring with them the ingredients needed for a traditional Ethiopian meat hash. Sons typically supply the meat (either a lamb or bull), while daughters are responsible for the vegetables, butter, and spices for the meal. While the focus of Antrosht is on the home’s maternal figure, it is usually the mother who ends up cooking the feast. After the family’s big holiday meal, the celebrations continue with singing and dancing.

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Perú: Día de la Madre

Little girl holding a sheet of paper that says in Spanish: "Happy day, mom!"
Credit: Ruslana Iurchenko/ Shutterstock

In Peru, Mother’s Day is known by the same name as in the U.S. (Día de la Madre in Spanish) and also takes place on the second Sunday in May. However, celebrations in Peru begin a full week in advance of the day. There are several large family meals, concerts, and other live performances throughout the South American country, including school events where children put on shows and present their mothers with handmade crafts and gifts.

On Mother’s Day itself, Peruvians celebrate much the same way as Americans, with flowers, gifts, or brunch with Mom. But they also have a unique tradition: gathering at cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of the mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, or aunts they have lost over the years.

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United Kingdom: Mothering Sunday

A decorated simnel cake used in celebration for Mothering Sunday.
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Although Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day sound and seem remarkably similar, they started as very different holidays. Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent in the U.K. The custom started in the Middle Ages, when children who had moved away returned to visit their home — or “mother” — churches to attend services. The occasion turned into cherished time with mothers and families as well — on their travels home, children would pick wildflowers to give to their mothers.

By the 1930s, the religious focus of Mothering Sunday began to wane, as did the observance of the holiday. But by the 1940s, the U.K. had picked up on the popularity of the American Mother’s Day and incorporated those practices into Mothering Sunday. Today, “mums” are celebrated much like those on this side of the pond, with flowers, gifts, and cards. They also make sure to have plenty of traditional British simnel cake on hand — the spiced cake is made with dried fruit and marzipan.

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Thailand: Wan Mae

Giving Thai traditional jasmine garland to a mother, which is shown as a Mother's day tradition.
Credit: wirakorn deelert/ Shutterstock

Queen Sirikit is seen as the symbolic “mother of all Thai people,” and Mother’s Day in Thailand takes place on August 12 to commemorate her birthday. The holiday, which is called Wan Mae, is a huge deal in the country. All throughout the month, decorations and festive lights line the streets and fill homes, while portraits of Sirikit hang everywhere.

Mother’s Day was introduced in the country in 1950, but it wasn’t until 1976 that it was moved to coincide with Sirikit’s birthday. On the holiday, a traditional Buddhist alms-giving ceremony is held in the morning, followed by a country-wide candle lighting ceremony and celebratory fireworks displays. The everyday moms aren’t forgotten, either — children often honor their own mothers with white jasmine flowers, which represent motherhood, love, and respect in Thai culture.

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Mexico: A Mariachi Mother’s Day

Mariachi Musicians playing music as a tradition for Mothers day in Mexico.
Credit: Pedro Gutierrez/ Shutterstock

Mother’s Day (Día de la Madre) has a fixed date in Mexico, celebrated on May 10. The holiday’s origins trace back to April 1922, when a local journalist urged officials to establish the country’s own day to honor the mother, a traditionally revered figure in family-oriented Mexican culture.

The next month marked the first official observance of the holiday. Today, Mother’s Day is a beloved tradition that involves elaborate family feasts for both breakfast (featuring tamales and atole, a delicious hot cornmeal drink) and dinner (with favorites such as mole, enchiladas, and quesadillas). One of the most popular ways to celebrate in Mexico is with a personal mariachi band — families hire bands to serenade mothers right in their homes.

10

Finland: Medals for Mom

Close-up of a white anemone flower in the forest during spring in Finland.
Credit: Suratwadee Rattanajarupak/ Shutterstock

Flowers and brunch are lovely gestures, but they pale in comparison to how Finland honors its matriarchs. Every year on Mother's Day, which is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, mothers who have been nominated by their families or communities are awarded with a medal by the President of Finland. The award, called the Order of the White Rose, is reserved for those who have made remarkable contributions both inside and outside of the home. Previous recipients have included educators, single mothers, foster parents, and mothers with children who have special needs.

In addition to the public recognition, Finnish people celebrate at home with breakfast and coffee in bed, gifts, and cards; going out for lunch is also a popular option. Mother’s Day coincides with the blooming of wood anemones in Finland, and the buttercup-like flowers are a popular choice for the holiday.

9

Serbia: Materice

A pair of boots tied up together and hanging on a railing by the laces.
Credit: RUBENBON10/ Shutterstock

Serbian mothers, on the other hand, don’t exactly get a relaxing Mother's Day. Celebrated two Sundays before Christmas in the Balkans country, Materice begins when mothers are woken up by their children tying their feet together. They don’t get untied until they give their children gifts and treats, a so-called sign of their devotion and love for them.

Fortunately, the lighthearted tradition isn’t relegated just to mothers: One week before, mothers get to do the same to their children in exchange for gifts, and one week after Mother’s Day, the same is done for Father’s Day. Materice, which is part of the Serbian Christmas season, is also celebrated with church services and community and family feasts.

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Bolivia: Honoring “Herstory”

Incan woman with a baby on her back walking on the beach in Bolivia.
Credit: Pyty/ Shutterstock

Bolivians celebrate Mother’s Day by honoring their history. The date commemorates the Battle of La Coronilla, which took place on May 27, 1812, during the Bolivian War of Independence. Many brave women fought for the country's independence from Spain, with hundreds of them sacrificing their lives in battle. In the 1920s, a law was passed to make Día de la Madre an officially recognized day.

Mother’s Day in Bolivia serves not only as a reminder of the selfless legacy of those women, but also as a celebration for everyday moms. For a month in advance, children prepare activities and invite mothers to join them for meals at their schools, where traditional cream cake is a must.

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Indonesia: Celebrating Women in Congress

Close-up shot of female hands holding a Mother's day card from her preschool son.
Credit: Kanawa_Studio/ iStock

Mother’s Day in Indonesia honors the country’s historical fight for gender equality. On December 22, 1928, the first Indonesian Women's Congress took place, which convened women's organizations from all over the country to discuss gender issues. It was the first time women officially gathered within an Indonesian governmental body, and is considered an important historical marker of the country’s women's movement.

In 1953, on the 25th anniversary of the congress, Indonesia’s President Sukarno made it an official holiday. Every year on December 22, Indonesians observe not only the historical significance of the holiday, but also their individual mothers — pampering and spoiling them with cards, gifts, and meals like in many other places around the world.

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Armenia: Motherhood and Beauty Day

Forget-me-not bouquet of flowers on top of a book.
Credit: Africa Studio/ Shutterstock

On April 7, Armenia celebrates a holiday called Motherhood and Beauty Day. On March 8, Armenians also observe International Women’s Day, so for the month in between, the country unofficially observes “women’s month.” During this time, women are treated to discounts at shops, specials at restaurants, and flowers almost every day at work.

Motherhood and Beauty Day is dedicated solely to those who have become mothers, however. As in many other places around the world, moms are spoiled with special visits, cards, and gifts from their families. Flowers — including forget-me-nots — are an especially popular symbol of appreciation. Armenian mothers also often receive a twig growing fresh blooms on it to symbolize the beauty of new life. Additionally, many churches hold services for what they call the Day of the Blessing of Motherhood.

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France: Fêtes des Mères

Happy Mother's Day written in french on a black pebble with an orchid flower.
Credit: Delpixart/ iStock

The French celebrate Mother’s Day (Fête des Mères) on the last Sunday in May (unless it falls on the Christian holiday of Pentecost, in which case it is moved to the first Sunday in June). The holiday’s origins trace back to the Napoleonic era, when medals were awarded to mothers of large families. The practice was revived again in the early 1900s to encourage population growth amid a decline. By 1950, mothers were no longer awarded medals for having children, but Fête des Mères was officially recognized as a day of observance.

One of the most unique Mother’s Day gifts in France is a cake designed to resemble a bouquet of flowers. Like in many other countries, French families also honor moms with actual flowers, chocolates, handmade gifts and cards, and special family dinners.

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Brazil: Dia das Mães

Sausage on the grill roasting over a floor fire in southern Brazil.
Credit: Daniel R Moura/ Shutterstock

Like in the U.S. and many other countries, Brazil celebrates Mother’s Day — known as Dia das Mães — on the second Sunday in May, a date observed since 1932. The family unit is incredibly important to Brazilians, and often, the day is a multi-generational celebration including aunts and grandmothers, too.

While Mother's Day is often commercialized, the most beloved celebrations in Brazil are those that don’t require spending a lot of money. Church services and children’s performances are popular, and the day almost always culminates in big family barbecues. Still, flowers are a go-to Mother’s Day gift for Brazilians — the country’s booming flower market means the selection of native plants such as vibrant begonias, freesia, and hibiscus is second to none.

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Israel: Mother’s Day Evolves Into Family Day

Children facing the beach raising the flag of Israel on a sunny day.
Credit: len4ik/ Shutterstock

Mother’s Day was first observed in Israel in 1951, thanks to 11-year-old Nechama Frankel, who suggested the country adopt the same holiday as the U.S. and use it to honor an Israeli hero, Henrietta Szold. While Szold had no children of her own, her work helping Jewish children to escape Nazi Germany touched many lives, and for years, Mother’s Day took place on February 13 — the anniversary of her death.

Initially, the holiday consisted of treating Mom to breakfast and homemade cards in bed. It stayed that way until the 1980s, when social activists appealed for a more inclusive “Family Day” in order to reflect households outside of the conventional nuclear family, as well as a changing attitude toward women’s role in society. However, the holiday’s popularity has fallen off since the 1990s.

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Japan: Haha No Hi

A Japanese daughter giving a mini flower bouquet to her mother.
Credit: kyonntra/ iStock

Japan’s first Mother’s Day took place on March 6, 1931, to commemorate Empress Kōjun’s birthday. Today, the holiday takes place on the second Sunday in May, a change made after the end of World War II to align with the American date. In its early years, the holiday also became a way to comfort women and children who had lost sons or husbands and fathers during the war.

Mothers are greeted with a cheerful “haha no hi” on Mother’s Day, a phrase adapted from the Japanese word hahaoya, meaning “mother.” While small gifts and dining out are popular ways to celebrate the holiday, the most common sights are bouquets of roses or red or white carnations — the latter represents the sweet and enduring love of a mother.

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Egypt: Celebrating Motherhood and New Life

Mother and son standing at a wooden fence on the beach for Mother's Day.
Credit: Viktoriia Likhonosova/ Shutterstock

Ancient Egyptians have long celebrated the goddess Isis, deity of life and protector of children, but the modern version of Mother’s Day came to Egypt through journalist Mustafa Amin. Inspired by the U.S., he campaigned to make it an official celebration in Egypt, too.

In his 1943 book Smiling America, Amin acknowledged the often uncelebrated sacrifices made by mothers for their children. It wasn’t until March 21, 1956, that his efforts gained widespread attention, appearing on the front page of the Al-Ahram newspaper and declaring it Mother’s Day for the first time. The date — the first day of spring — was chosen for its representation of new beginnings. Mother’s Day eventually spread to other parts of the Middle East, and today it is also commemorated every year on March 21 in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, and Libya.

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