Mother’s Day 31st March 2019 (UK).
Formalised celebrations of motherhood appear to have started with the Ancient Greeks who venerated the Goddess Cybele (The Mountain Mother) an exotic mystery-goddess who typically arrived in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following [Wikipedia]. Certainly not the kind of behaviour I would readily associate with my own mother who, I am pretty certain, would have told them in no uncertain terms to tone it down a bit. The Roman festival of Hilaria was a more structured festival which also honoured Cybele, whom the Romans considered to be the Mother of Gods. The festival took place over the last two weeks in March and began with a nine-day period of fasting, followed by the sacrifice of a goat and a day of whipping, scourging and castration – all very jolly I’m sure, but not really the kind of wet Sunday family gathering that we in the UK would recognise. The Christian Church celebrates Mothering Sunday as a commemoration of the Mother Church rather than motherhood itself, although this seldom involves Milk Tray. Mother’s Day, as we now know it, was originally conceived by American Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905, the year in which her mother died (so, a little late in my book) and was first celebrated in 1908, presumably with a card she’d forgotten to sign, a bunch of limp flowers and a disappointing meal at the local pub. Jarvis herself, began a boycott of Mother’s Day in the early 1920’s as she thought that it had become over-commercialised and, presumably, she wasn’t getting her cut.
These days Mother’s Day is a worldwide phenomenon which is observed at different times and in different ways throughout the world – breakfast in bed and the giving of flowers being the most widespread of practices. In many countries of the old eastern Bloc, International Women’s Day is observed instead. This is generally regarded as a day in which to remember the sacrifices made by women in defence of the fatherland e.g. making cabbage soup, wearing cardboard shoes and grassing up the next door neighbour for having a copy of The Financial Times hidden behind the communal toilet. In some countries it is little celebrated, whilst in others, forgetting Mother’s Day is regarded less favourably than barbecuing next-door’s cat and will probably mean that you have to pay penance for the next twenty years in order to get back in the will.
Here in the UK we celebrate Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday simultaneously because it is cheaper. It occurs three weeks before Easter Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) meaning that it can fall anywhere between 1st of March and 4th of April. We do this because we are bloody-minded and because it confuses the hell out of the Americans (see also irony).
In Belgium, primary school children spend the week making presents and cards. Belgian fathers typically buy croissants which they take to their wives in bed saying ‘Sorry they’re cold. I’ve no idea how to turn the oven on. I would have made you tea but I’m not sure how the kettle works. When are you getting up? I’m starving.’
Ethiopia celebrates the festival of Antrosht in the autumn. Girls contribute vegetables, cheese and butter and boys meat, with which a hash is made and handed out by the mother. After the meal the women smear themselves with butter while the men sing songs. Later, the women wash the pots and the men chase them with bread.
France, alarmed by its low birth rate at the start of the twentieth century, created a national celebration of mothers of large families – giving an award to those who had nine children and more – although I’m guessing they would have preferred condoms. The Médaille de la Famille is still awarded by the French Government to mothers of large families, along with a fluorescent green liqueur that causes the eyes to rotate, a bulb of garlic and some cheese that smells like carrion. The award has not been ratified by the EU but the French Government does not donner un singe because there is no financial advantage and the air-traffic controllers will still go on strike anyway.
In Germany, Muttertag is celebrated with children giving their mothers presents or flowers, reciting poetry and possibly taking them breakfast in bed before spending the rest of the day being overbearing.
Italy uses the Festa Della Mamma to celebrate the kind of Italian mammas who manage to rear sufficient children to form their own football team whilst continuing to tread grapes, breast feed triplets, make pasta, refine olive oil and shout very loudly at any male that happens to cross their path. Italians also celebrate Father’s Day (Festa Del Papa) but only when mother says so.
Sweden has come late to the Mother’s Day party although it has been celebrating Father’s Day for many years. Remember, this is a country where the sun often does not set, they eat fermented fish and their sandwiches do not have a top on.
In the US Mother’s Day sees the highest church attendance after Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Celebrants wear red carnations if their mother is alive, white if she is dead and yellow if the solicitor is still going through the will.
So, there we are; what we have learned (bearing in mind that even I am not certain how much of this I might have just made up) is that Mother’s Day has its roots in an orgiastic bacchanalian Greco-Roman festival celebrating the Mother of the Gods, featuring artiodactylian sacrifice, castration and flagellation. (It is probably still celebrated that way in downtown Manhattan.) Mother’s Day, as we now know it, is the Invention of an American woman who subsequently went on to campaign against it because of over-commercialisation. It is marked throughout the world by the giving of cards and flowers, cake and breakfast in bed, which, in the case of my own children, was always accompanied by cold tea as they were taught not to go anywhere near the kettle. The idiosyncrasies of each sovereign state manifest themselves in the details and the manner in which the day is celebrated, although the overriding sentiment remains the same: thank goodness for mothers. It seems churlish to believe that remembering the debt you owe to your mother on just one day of the year is sufficient, but you forget it at your peril. If you find it too much trouble to travel to see her on that one day, be sure that it will be your own indifference and not your mother that will someday come back to haunt you.
To my wife and daughters – each a brilliant mother.