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Mother's Day and Muttertag

The history of mom's holiday in Germany and around the world

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Although the idea of honoring mothers on a special day was known as far back as ancient Greece, today Mother's Day is celebrated in many countries, in many different ways, and on different dates.

The credit for the American Mother's Day observance goes to three women. In 1872 Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), who also wrote the lyrics for "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," proposed a Mother's Day observance dedicated to peace in the years following the Civil War. Such annual observances were held in Boston in the late 1800s.

In 1907 Anna Marie Jarvis (1864-1948), a Philadelphia teacher originally from Grafton, West Virginia, began her own efforts to establish a national Mother's Day. She also wished to honor her own mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905), who had first promoted the "Mothers' Work Days" in 1858 as a way to improve the sanitary conditions in her town. She later worked to relieve suffering during and after the Civil War. With the support of churches, business people, and politicians, Mother's Day came to be observed on the second Sunday in May in most U.S. states within several years of Ann Jarvis' campaign. The national Mother's Day holiday became official on May 8, 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution, but it was more of a patriotic day on which flags were flown in honor of mom. Ironicaly, Anna Jarvis, who later tried in vain to combat the increasing commercialization of the holiday, never became a mother herself.

England's Mother's Day observance goes back to the 13th century when "Mothering Sunday" was observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent (because it was originally for Mary, mother of Christ). Later, in the 17th century, servants were given a free day on Mothering Sunday to return home and visit their mothers, often bringing along a sweet treat known as the "mothering cake" that was to be kept until Easter. In the UK, Mothering Sunday is still observed during Lent, in March or early April.

In Austria, Germany, and Switzerland Muttertag is observed on the second Sunday in May, just as in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Italy, Japan, and many other countries. During the First World War, Switzerland was one the first European countries to introduce Mother's Day (in 1917). Germany's first Muttertag observance took place in 1922, Austria's in 1926 (or 1924, depending on the source). Muttertag was first declared an official German holiday in 1933 (the second Sunday in May) and took on a special significance as part of the Nazi motherhood cult under the Hitler regime. There was even a medal—das Mutterkreuz—in bronze, silver, and gold (eight or more Kinder!), awarded to mothers who produced children for the Vaterland. (The medal had the popular nickname of "Karnickelorden," the "Order of the Rabbit.") After World War II the German holiday became a more unofficial one that took on the cards-and-flowers elements of the U.S. Mother's Day. In Germany, if Mother's Day happens to fall on Pfingstsonntag (Pentecost), the holiday is moved to the first Sunday in May.

International Mother's Day is observed on May 11. In Mexico and much of Latin America Mother's Day is on May 10. In France and Sweden Mother's Day falls on the last Sunday in May. Spring in Argentina comes in October, which may explain why their Mother's Day observance is on the second Sunday in October rather than May. In Spain and Portugal Mother's Day is December 8 and is more of a religious holiday than most Mother's Day celebrations around the world, although the English Mothering Sunday actually began under Henry III in the 1200s as a celebration of the "Mother Church."

German poet and philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "Von Vater hab ich die Statur, des Lebens ernstes Führen, von Mütterchen die Frohnatur und Lust zu fabulieren."

More German Holidays:

Father's Day: Vatertag

Holiday Calendar: Feiertagkalender

Traditions: German Customs and Holidays

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