How do you celebrate the mothers in your life?
Typically, once a year we expectantly celebrate our mothers; a day commonly donned with breakfast in bed, often prepared by their children; luscious bouquets of flowers; or even a nice restaurant brunch. While our young children may not be the most seasoned chefs, the morning bedside greeting accompanied with charred toast, or seemingly rock-hard pancakes, can often become the most treasured memories.
But, beyond the American tradition, what happens when you live in a community that strongly observes non-American cultural traditions…or even in another country entirely?
We thought it’d be fun to examine the global variations and awe-inspiring ways mothers are celebrated all throughout the year:
Serbia observes three consecutive holidays in December, each which celebrates Children, Mothers and Fathers, all in a unique way. Teaser: They involve rope.
On each day, the mother, father or children are tied up, until they make promises or provide gifts to the rest of the family: children must promise to be good, while parents are expected to give small gifts or treats. There is some evidence this rare tradition’s origin is symbolic—reinforcing the “ties” between family members. In modern times it provides younger children with sanctioned mischief, as they sneak into Mom’s bedroom and loosely bind her ankles with ribbon on Mother’s Day morning.
Mother’s Day in Korea is also a bit different than in the United States: Their observance is more of a “Parents Day,” since Mom and Dad are celebrated equally. It’s not uncommon in Korea to honor your mother on your own birthday, (which actually makes a whole lot of sense). From an early age, children learn that their birthday is an annual moment to express gratitude—with gifts, cards, or flowers—for their mothers birthing and raising them, a tradition that continues throughout the rest of her life.
In Ethiopia, the three-day Antrosht festival celebrates mothers and Mother Earth, and is held at the end of the fall rainy season. After the weather clears, families head home to gather for an enormous feast. The daughters of the family bring vegetables, butter, spices and cheese; the sons are expected to contribute meat, usually a lamb or bull.
A celebratory feast—burnt toast notwithstanding—is a common theme for Mom’s special day, and nowhere more enthusiastically than in Mexico. Mothers in this matriarchal yet traditional society are devoutly revered, so on Mother’s Day, families make sure she gets a day off, and even restaurants throughout Mexico hire extra staff to handle the load. Mariachis are engaged to croon sentimental tributes to motherhood, though it’s equally traditional for children to lovingly serenade their own mother.
So why did Mother’s Day come into being in the first place?
In 1909, a year after her mother’s death, a Philadelphia woman named Anna Jarvis began a grass-roots campaign to create a national holiday celebrating mothers. She was so successful that Mother’s Day was signed into national policy in 1914. A bit of trivia: By the 1930’s, Jarvis (who died in 1948) was actively trying to de-commercialize the holiday, which she felt had strayed too far from the pure sentiment of its original purpose.
Traditions to honor mothers were in place long before Anna Jarvis, however. The British created “Mothering Sunday” (the fourth Sunday of Lent) during the Middle Ages, in which servants were given the day off to visit their mothers. The holiday was based on holy tradition, when those who had moved away from their baptismal birthplace traveled to worship at their “mother” church on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
The varied celebrations around the world offer an incredible reminder: While we celebrate our moms differently (though wonderful food and giddy-laughter seem to be consistent common denominators), their role as nurturer, leader, and believer-in her children is a foundational truth that saturates all customs, continents, and cultures—forever resonating with each and every one of us.