Since 1914, the second Sunday of May has been a national holiday to appreciate and honor motherhood. Millions of families in the United States celebrate with gifts, special meals, and acts of service for the maternal figures in their lives. It’s reportedly the busiest day of the year for restaurants, as well as for phone calls — generating approximately 122 million calls, according to the Pew Research Center.
Mother’s Day isn’t unique to Americans, though, and we certainly didn’t start the tradition. The idea has been traced back to ancient Greeks and Roman festivals that honored the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. Since then, different countries around the world have defined their own religious and cultural variations. Here are some of the notable ways people celebrate the mothers in their communities today:
Since 1956, Egyptians and several other Arab countries celebrate Mother’s Day on March 21, the first day of spring. Its origin is attributed to Mustafa Amin, a journalist who campaigned to make it an official holiday. Children are expected to give their mother gifts, letters of thanks, and a day off from doing chores.
Ethiopians recognize their mothers during a three-day festival called Antrosht, held at the end of the rainy season between October and November. Family members are responsible for bringing various ingredients to make a traditional hash meal. After the feast, everyone dances to songs about family and traditional Ethiopian heroes.
India has embraced the westernized version of Mother’s Day and celebrates it on the second Sunday in May like the U.S. However, Hindus also celebrate Durga Puja, one of the largest festivals in the country. Every fall, the annual 10-day festival reveres the feminine goddess Durga, and her triumph over evil, through elaborate decorations, scripture readings, and performances.
Beautiful red carnations are a popular gift on Mother’s Day in Japan (also on the second Sunday of May). These flowers are meant to represent motherhood’s gentle strength and are gifted to mothers by their children. Before World War II, Mother’s Day used to be tied to the the birthday of Empress Kōjun on March 6.
Mexico’s Mother’s Day was first introduced in 1922 and has since become one of the most important and widely celebrated days of the year. El Día de las Madres represents the deep significance of mothers in Mexican families and culture. The day is filled with flowers, music, food, and a morning mariachi performance of “Las Mananitas.” This birthday song of Mexico is also often played on December 11 as a serenade to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
In this South Asian country, Mother’s Day is called Matatirtha Aunsi and is observed on Baisakh Krishna Ausi of the Lunar calendar. People pay homage to their mothers’ unconditional love by giving gifts and food. To honor mothers who have passed, many visit Matatirtha, a Hindu shrine west of Kathmandu, to perform Sraddh or Pinda Daan ceremonies to their deceased ancestors.
Mother’s Day is marked on the second Sunday in May with chocolates, handmade gifts, and family meals. For Peru’s indigenous Andean population, Pachamama Raymi, or “Festival of Mother Earth,” is a much bigger occasion during the first week of August. Pachamama is an ancient mythological goddess that is believed to cause earthquakes and fertility.
International Women’s Day (March 8) has become the most popular date to celebrate women, mothers, and maternal bonds in Russia. During the 1990s, the country marked the last Sunday in November as its official Mother’s Day; however, most of the celebrations still happen in March.
Serbia (former Yugoslavia)
In this central European country, three days in December recognize mothers, fathers, and children individually. On Mother’s Day, children sneak into their parent’s bedroom at dawn and tie up their mother with rope. Moms then have to offer sweet treats to get released!
Día de la Madre was originally tied to the Catholic holiday of the Immaculate Conception, or “Virgin’s Day,” on December 8. Starting in 1965, however, it was moved to the first Sunday of May and is now celebrated with parades and church masses across the country.
Held on August 12, Mother’s Day is a Thai national holiday that coincides with the the birthday of Queen Sirikit. Early in the morning, communities perform special ceremonies and offer food to saffron-robed Buddhist monks. Mothers also visit their children’s schools so that their sons and daughters can kneel at her feet and pay respect. Jasmine flowers, a symbol of purity and gentleness, are a common gift.
Mothering Sunday, observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent, started during medieval times in the UK. Children in poor families often had to work as domestic servants away from home but returned to their “mother church” during Lent to worship the Virgin Mary. Children picked their mother flowers and baked Simnel cakes, a light fruitcake. Today, Mothering Sunday has become more commercialized with flowers, cards, jewelry, and other gifts.
There are so many traditions and events around the world that honor motherhood — this is just a sampling! If you’re thinking of celebrating outside of the U.S. this year or next, Swift Passport Services can help you and your loved ones get there.
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.