Mothers are worth celebrating every day. But around the world, one day a year is dedicated to showing mothers just how much they are loved and appreciated.
However, while countries around the world celebrate Mother’s Day, many do so on a different date.
The UAE, Mother's Day is marked on March 21, the official start of spring, while Sunday, May 8, is the day for countries such as the US and India, where they celebrate every year on the second Sunday in May.
So why is Mother’s Day celebrated differently across the world and where did the tradition begin?
Motherhood has been celebrated for centuries, with the ancient Greeks and Romans each holding festivals dedicated to honouring the mother goddesses, Rhea and Cybele, who played a vital role in their culture and beliefs.
But the earliest celebration of Mother’s Day as we know it today can be traced to the early Christian festival known as Mothering Sunday, which has been marked since the 8th century.
Celebrated on the fourth Sunday during Lent, the celebration was initially intended to encourage people to return to their local or “mother” church for a special yearly service. However, over the centuries, the meaning evolved to incorporate the celebration of family, and specifically mothers.
While the religious aspect of Mother’s Day, for the most part, has been lost, the tradition of celebrating the day on the fourth Sunday during Lent has remained in the UK and Ireland. While the date changes each year, dictated by paschal full moon — the first full moon on or after the spring equinox — Mother’s Day is usually celebrated in March.
Mother’s Day in the US
The incarnation of Mother’s Day in the US came about in the early 20th century, fronted by social activist Anna Jarvis. Her mother had always expressed a desire to have a day celebrating motherhood, and after she died, Jarvis went about realising her dream. In 1908, three years after her mother’s death, Jarvis held the first official memorial service to honour her own and all mothers, at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, which is now home to the International Mother’s Day shrine.
The day became an annual celebration and quickly spread across the US, becoming an official holiday in 1914, held annually on the second Sunday of May.
However, in the years that followed, Jarvis worked to distance herself from the celebration, criticising the commercialisation of the holiday, stating publicly that this was never her intention in establishing the day.
None-the-less, the celebration was adopted in many other parts of the English-speaking world, which followed the US’s lead in marking Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May. Today, the holiday is celebrated on the same day in Australia and Canada, as well as in parts of Europe including Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Ukraine.
Mother’s Day in the Middle East
Unlike in the other parts of the world, Mother’s Day in the Arab world is not always celebrated on a Sunday. The holiday was officially introduced in Egypt in 1956 by journalist Mustafa Amin, who chose the first day of spring, March 21, as the annual day of celebration.
The day was chosen as, much like in ancient Greece, the ancient Egyptians used to celebrate mothers with boats full of flowers, which was usually done at the start of spring as a symbol of new life.
After becoming an official holiday in Egypt, much of the rest of the Arab world also adopted the celebration. This year, Mother’s Day was marked on March 21.
Other Mother’s Day traditions — from China to Spain
While China also usually celebrates Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May, the meaning is slightly different. The day was first introduced in 1997 as a way to honour poor mothers throughout the country, and especially those in rural areas.
In Thailand, Mother’s Day is always celebrated on August 12, on the birthday of the current queen, Sirikit.
In Ethiopia, mothers are celebrated in a multi-day festival known as Antrosht, where families come together in the autumn to sing songs and eat a large feast.
Spain and the Spanish-speaking world mark Mother’s Day on the first Sunday of May. The celebration is thought to be held in May as, according to Catholicism, it is the month dedicated to celebrating the Virgin Mary.
Indonesian Mother's Day is celebrated each year on December 22. The celebration was made an official holiday by president Sukarno in 1953, marking the 25th anniversary of the Indonesian Women Congress, first held in 1928.
This article was originally published in March 2022