The History of Mother’s Day – Origin, Facts, & Traditions

Mother and daughter laughing outdoors

We celebrate Mother’s Day to honor the accomplishments of the women in our life. It’s also a time to cherish the relationship between child and mother. But why do we celebrate Mother’s Day? It seems like a regular calendar event, but Mother’s Day only recently became a recognized and practiced tradition around the globe. (And no, it wasn’t created by Hallmark.)

Mother’s Day recognizes women for all they do. And unsurprisingly, it took some inspiring women to bring this holiday to the world.

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The History of Mother’s Day

The origins of a motherhood celebration can be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome, where festivals were held in honor of their mother goddesses, Rhea and Cybele. Much later, in the 16th century, Mothering Sunday was recognized during the fourth Sunday of Lent for parishes of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. This holiday was less about mothers and more about attending your “mother church,” meaning the local Christian church. 

But the history of Mother’s Day as we know it came from humble origins in West Virginia, USA. 

During the American Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, known as “Mother Jarvis” in her local parish, helped start “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to raise awareness of the poor health conditions in her community. These clubs proved to be an excellent unifying force for a region that was very socially divided during the Civil War. After the war ended, Jarvis organized “Mother’s Friendship Day” to promote reconciliation between the Union and Confederacy.

The United States in the late 19th century saw a lot of different movements to organize a Mother’s Day, including Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, who wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” This called for mothers to unite and promote world peace.

Mothers day gourmet soup gift package

The day we now recognize as Mother’s Day came from the efforts of Ann Jarvis’s daughter, Anna. Anna saw how valiantly her mother expressed activism to give mothers the recognition they deserve. She made it her life mission to get Mother’s Day onto the national calendar, and in 1908, she sparked the first widely recognized celebration of the holiday while she held a public memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. 

Anna’s campaign continued to gain popularity over the years, as she teamed up with floral companies and department stores to spread the word. By 1912, Mother’s Day had spread to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, and 45 US states (many of which adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday).

Finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday to be celebrated every year on the second Sunday of May.

a mother holding a baby with a toy

When Did Mother’s Day Start?

The end of World War I was when Mother’s Day started to gain popularity, and it took some time for it to become a widely recognized holiday as it is today. Since it was largely seen as an American holiday, other countries were slow to adopt the tradition. 

Many countries, like France and Germany, had very low birth rates after all the men were fighting overseas and women were working labor intensive jobs. These countries, and those in similar situations, started campaigns as a way to encourage motherhood and childbearing. France even gave awards to mothers of large families during this time, and mayors throughout France continue the tradition of awarding the Médaille de la Famille. Over time, Mother’s Day in these countries turned into a celebration of all mothers—not just the ones who were having a lot of children.

When Is Mother’s Day in 2020?

In 2020, Mother’s Day falls on Sunday, May 10 as it’s celebrated in the United States and most other countries. The specific date varies year to year since it occurs on the second Sunday of May. In Mexico, Mother’s Day is always held on May 10—which happens to coincide with the second Sunday this year.

Here’s a helpful list to know when it is Mother’s Day for a variety of countries:

  • May 3 (First Sunday of May): Spain, Portugal, Angola, Hungary, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Lithuania
  • May 10: United States, Mexico, and most European countries
  • May 26: Poland
  • May 31 (Last Sunday of May): Algeria, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Haiti, Senegal, Sweden
  • June 7 (First Sunday of June if the last Sunday of May is Pentecost): France
  • June 14: Luxembourg
  • July 6: South Sudan
  • August 12: Thailand
  • August 15: Costa Rica
  • October 18: Argentina

Many countries that don’t recognize a formalized version of Mother’s Day do celebrate International Women’s Day, which is on March 8.

mom and child

Mother’s Day Around The World

Mother’s Day history has made celebrating mothers a holiday around the world, but different cultures have their own way of celebrating it. Common traditions include buying flowers and chocolates and writing cards for your mom. Kids will sometimes take charge of the cooking and cleaning dishes to give moms a “day off.”

Other countries have tied their Mother’s Day to previous celebrations. The United Kingdom took Mothering Sunday, the old tradition celebrated in the fourth week of Lent, and rebranded it to reflect the American Mother’s Day. Meanwhile, Thailand holds their motherhood celebration on August 12, which is their queen’s birthday.

Then there are countries like Mexico that go all out for their moms. Their celebration shuts down the entire country, as everyone works to honor their mothers as best as they can; often, Mother’s Day lunches in Mexico can last as long as five hours!

Mother’s Day around the world takes many other forms as well. In Spain, children take a week to prepare for Mother’s Day. School children will spend a few hours every day to prepare gifts for their mothers, often with the help of their teachers.

Nepal has a festival equivalent to Mother’s Day called Mata Tirtha Aunsi, which translates to “Mother Pilgrimage New Moon.” Not only do the Nepalis take the time to honor their mothers, but they look to remember mothers who have died. The tradition was originally to make a pilgrimage to the Mata Tirtha ponds, located near Kathmandu.

Ethiopia holds a three-day festival, Antrosht, for their mothers, occurring sometime between October and November. In their tradition, everyone works together to create a massive feast. Even the children are involved; they have to gather the ingredients.

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Celebrate The True Meaning of Mother’s Day with Spoonful of Comfort

Across the globe, giving presents on Mother’s Day is a cherished form of showing love! And here at Spoonful of Comfort, it’s one of our favorite holidays. After all, Spoonful of Comfort was created in honor of our founder’s own mom.

For Mother’s Day 2020, the limited-edition Spoonful of Comfort Mother’s Day package delivery includes a full meal of homestyle soup, rolls, and cookies (the kind she’d make herself!), plus a free packet of plantable flower confetti! So check out our website and see how you can make your mom’s big day that much more special.