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Mother's Day (Moederdag) in the Netherlands and abroad: A history

Mother's Day (Moederdag) in the Netherlands and abroad: A history

In many countries around the world (including the Netherlands), the second Sunday of May is Mother's Day; a designated day for celebrating and honouring mothers with gifts, flowers and other acts of love. While not an official holiday in the Netherlands, it is a popular day for appreciating mothers and spending time together as a family. This day has a fascinating history that has seen it spread all around the world, creating new traditions in different countries. 

The origins of Mother's Day

Mothers have long been honoured in different cultures. This tradition stretches all the way back to Greek and Roman times, when festivals were held to honour the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. However, the precedent for modern-day Mother’s Day comes from the early Christian festival called “Mothering Sunday.”

Mothering Sunday was once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, falling on the fourth Sunday of Lent. It was seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church," or the main church in the area, for a special service. Over time, the Mothering Sunday holiday became a more secular holiday, where children would gift their mothers flowers or other tokens of appreciation.

Mother’s Day gained more popularity in the 1930s and 1940s after it was merged with the American Mother’s Day.

Anna Jarvis and the American Mother's Day

In the early 20th century, an American woman called Anna Jarvis began campaigning for an official holiday for mothers, following the death of her own mother. Mother's Day was, to Jarvis, a day to honour mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure which officially established the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, a day for children to honour their mothers. 

Interestingly, Anna Jarvis was vehemently against the commercialisation of Mother's Day. Her intent for the holiday was a day of personal celebration for mothers, so she felt that the connection with gifts and cards took away from the original purpose of the holiday. She went as far as to denounce the holiday completely, and even lobbied the government to have it removed from the American calendar. 

Mother's Day celebrations all around the world

It may not have been what Jarvis originally conceived of, but it was this version of Mother's Day that began to spread around the world. Although all countries nowadays have their own traditions, many include the giving of flowers, cards and small gifts to celebrate mothers in all shapes and forms. 

In Japan, white carnations are presented to mothers to symbolise the sweetness and endurance of motherhood. This current tradition was adopted after World War II to comfort mothers who had lost children in the war.

In Ethiopia, at the end of the rainy season in early autumn, the Antrosht festival is dedicated to mothers. After the monsoon season ends, families head to their homes for a large meal and celebration, where traditionally the girls bring vegetables and cheese, and the boys bring meat. Together, the family prepares the food while singing stories about their families.

In Peru, Mother's Day is not a single day event, but a week-long festival. Families organise meals, trips, and parties in honour of their mothers. Cities stage art shows and musical performances, and mothers visit museums, exhibits and festivals throughout the whole week. Another aspect is that people visit the graves of their late mothers, grandmothers, and other maternal figures to honour them by offering flowers and balloons. 

In Switzerland, the Salvation Army established Mother's Day in 1917, but until the 1920s the holiday was only observed by a small number of people. In the 1930s, however, the press, florists and master confectioners joined efforts to give the holiday a major boost. Swiss children typically celebrate Mother's Day by bringing their mothers breakfast in bed, gifting flowers, or other small trinkets.

In Germany, Mother's Day (Muttertag) is usually celebrated on the second Sunday of May. There is some suggestion that the holiday's German origins lie in a celebration that was held in the state of Thuringia in spring, but it wasn't until the 1920s that the day was celebrated routinely across Germany. Nowadays, mothers in Germany typically receive cards, presents and flowers from their loved ones, while some families leave white flowers on the graves of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

How is Mother's Day celebrated in the Netherlands?

The Dutch Mother's Day (Moederdag) was also introduced by the Salvation Army in 1916, and was further promoted by the Royal Dutch Society for Horticulture and Botany, who saw the day as a fantastic opportunity to boost flower sales. With a targeted campaign (which, legend has it, included delivering 30.000 flowers across primary schools in Rotterdam), the day began to kick off. By the late 1920s, it was being regularly celebrated across the Netherlands. 

Nowdays, Moederdag in the Netherlands sees children pamper their mothers for a day, including making breakfast in bed, gifting flowers and perhaps even performing chores. Some schools also help the children make gifts for their mothers the week before Moederdag.

Do you celebrate Mother's Day in your home country? How is it typically marked? Let us know in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on IamExpat in Switzerland.

Eesha Wirk

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Eesha Wirk

Eesha studied in the United States, obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience and Studio Art. She is currently getting her Research Masters in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In...

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