There's no debate that mothers deserve celebration—but the way people do that around the world varies significantly.
With Mother's Day drawing near, we're delving into the holiday's origin and sharing the many ways different countries show appreciation for their beloved matriarchs.
The history of Mother's Day
The celebration of mothers and motherhood itself dates back to ancient times. Cultists honored the Greco-Roman mother goddess, Cybele, with a spring festival of public games, theatrical performances, and a banquet. The weeks-long event closed out with the deity's sacred stone being taken in procession and cleansed by a priest in a ritual bath.
In the United States, the idea of a dedicated day to mothers came from Julia Ward Howe (the lyricist behind "The Battle Hymn of the Republic") who advocated for a Mothers' Peace Day in 1872. But the modern Mother's Day tradition that we observe today was inspired by Anna Jarvis. In May 1908, Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother—and mothers in general—and delivered 500 white carnations to the service as a symbol of truth, purity, and a mother's love.
Other countries have adopted Mother's Day traditions similar to those we have in the United States, but many cultures do things a little differently.
Called "queens of home" (las reinas de la casa), mothers awaken on Mother's Day to the traditional celebratory song of "Las Mañanitas" performed a cappella or by a hired mariachi band. Families then attend a mass honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Mexican symbol of motherhood and feminism, before concluding the day with traditional meals and gifts of cards and flowers.
Dating back to the Napoleon era, French mayors continue the emperor's tradition of honoring matriarchs who have at least four children with the Médaille de la Famille (Family Medal). Individually, people present their mamans with a special flower bouquet cake, an intimate dinner, chocolates, and handwritten poetry.
In 1973, Parents' Day replaced Mother's Day to also recognize fathers. It's customary to pin red paper carnations to the right side of parents' chests to represent love and gratitude. Special ceremonies take place in temples and cultural centers where elders and parents receive beauty products and treatments.
Antrosht is a three-day festival where families gather to eat, dance, and sing. Daughters bring veggies, spices, and cheese, while sons offer up meat for large feasts. The traditional meal revolves around a spicy lamb-and-bull hash prepared by the enat (mother) and a fruity punch. After the feast, mother and daughter anoint each other in a ritual of rubbing butter on their faces and chests.
Haha no Hi was initially commemorated during the Showa period to celebrate Empress Kojun's birthday. Today, mothers are traditionally gifted with red carnations and roses, Ghana chocolate bars, brightly colored kimonos, and kokeshi dolls. Other customs include eating egg-based delicacies such as oyakodon (rice bowl) and chawanmushi (custard), public gatherings, and special prayers.
Death and the afterlife are deeply valued in Latin American cultures. For Día de la Madre, Peruvian families honor the moms who have passed away by gathering in the cemeteries to recite prayers, clean graves, leave floral tributes, and tell stories over drinks and food. Common gestures for living mothers include complimentary concerts in the town square, handmade gifts, and visiting museums.