Updated: Jun 10, 2022
It’s May, and do you know what that means? Mother’s Day is here! Mother’s Day comes once a year, but here at FranceABC we like to celebrate all mothers of all kinds, all 12 months. Of course, though we in North America celebrate mothers on the second Sunday of May each year, other countries have their own traditions. Just as families are all unique, so too is every country’s celebration of all maternal figures. We’re going to take a look at the origin of Mother’s Day in Canada and in France.
The History of Mother’s Day
When did Mother’s Day come about? While some people may believe this to be a fairly recent phenomenon, invented by Hallmark and other card and gift sellers, this day actually has a much more noble history. And, like most holidays, it depends on the country.
Canada and the United States
Canada and the US share their history of Mother’s Day. In fact, Mother’s Day as we know it (or at least the origins of how we know it) was founded by a teacher, Anna Maria Jarvis. She started the day in commemoration of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a community worker and peace activist following the Civil War.
Ann R. Jarvis had founded ‘Mother’s Day Work Clubs’, which helped teach mothers the foundations of childcare. These Work Clubs sought to provide care and assistance to mothers who suffered tuberculosis and other severe illnesses. They also taught women about hygiene, sanitation, and the basics of health regimens for their children in order to reduce infant and maternal mortality. Following the Civil War, Mrs Jarvis founded ‘Mother’s Friendship Day’ in order to re-strengthen the still tenuous bonds between the southern and northern states.
Mrs Jarvis died in 1905, and in 1908, her daughter worked to establish a day to commemorate her work for mothers, children, and country. In 1914, President Wilson gave the day his stamp of approval, and it became an official holiday on the second Sunday of May every year. After this, Canada followed suit.
Mother’s Day in France is also celebrated in May, but instead it is always the last Sunday. This changes only if Pentecost falls on the same day. In that instance, Mother’s Day is moved to the first Sunday in June.
The history of the holiday in France dates a little further back than that in Canada and the US. Napoleon I wanted to expand the French population. As a result, he decided to create a day during which mothers with many children would be celebrated and commemorated.
While the celebrations of this day dwindled slightly after the Napoleonic era ended, the First World War brought it back. This time, the day was brought in to honour and respect widows of the war. The Family Medal, on the other hand, continued the Napoleonic tradition. In fact, mothers of large families continue to be celebrated to this day with “la Médaille de la Famille”.
This was founded in 1920 on 26 May. At the time, it celebrated those mothers who raised their children single-handedly while their husbands were at war, and widows of the war who raised three or more children. In 1983 the government decided that the medal could be given to recipients of any gender, but the medal still boasts an image of the family on its front.
As for Mother’s Day itself, it wasn’t until 1929 that the French government recognised the day. But the story of the day didn’t end there and the next war brought further changes. In 1941, in the midst of the Second World War, the Vichy Regime in France settled on the date for Mother’s Day - at least sort of. It was in that year that the government decided to make the last Sunday of May every year the chosen date of Mother’s Day. And in 1950, it became law: “Every year, the French Republic pays an official tribute to Mothers during a special day dedicated to the celebration of Mother’s Day.”
Though it’s not a public holiday, Mother’s Day is still an important day during which families give their maternal figures gifts in honour.
French Words for Mother’s Day
This year, Mother’s Day in France is 29 May. To surprise your mom with another Happy Mother’s Day, wish her “la fête des mères” that day. In French, it is not Mother’s Day but Mothers’ Day. When children are saying this to their own mother, however, it can be slightly different. They’d usually say “bonne fête Maman” or “joyeuse fête maman”.
Other common phrases for Mother’s Day are:
“Je t’aime Maman” - I love you Mom
Similarly, “Je t’aime de tout mon coeur” - I love you with all my heart
“Tu es la meilleure des mamans” - you’re the best mom
“J’ai un cadeau/un bouquet de fleurs pour toi” - I have a present/bouquet of flowers for you
“Je t’ai fait un dessin/une carte de voeux” - I made you a drawing/a card
“J’ai un poème à te réciter” - I have a poem to tell you (and here's a French Mother's Day poem to help out!)
Happy Mother's Day to all the maternal figures, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, and any parent with a child looking up to them this year. For some recipe ideas to have a proper French Mother's Day, see our blog here. We hope you have a month to celebrate!