Recognizing the global trends in Mother’s Day celebrations

By Pushpika Freitas

Director of MarketPlace: Handwork of India

The way we Americans prepare for Mother’s Day is very similar across the nation: we take time to reflect on the ways our mothers have helped us and what they have taught us over the years, and we give our mothers gifts as a kind of “thank you” for all they do that is not always recognized day to day.

Many other cultures also have times to recognize mothers. Some countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Turkey, Italy and Australia, celebrate Mother’s Day on the same day and in the same way as we Americans do. Others have alternate ways of honoring mothers that provide interesting vantage points on women’s changing roles around the world.

In Spain and Portugal, for example, Mother’s Day is celebrated on Dec. 8, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Spanish and Portuguese families attend church services to honor Mary, mother of Jesus, in addition to honoring their own mothers.

In France, Mother’s Day is celebrated the last Sunday in May. It is not just celebrated by the immediate family (mother, father, and children), but by the extended family as well. After a special meal, a cake shaped like a bouquet of flowers is presented to the mother.

In Japan, an art contest is held for young children where they can submit a drawing of their mother. Once every four years, the drawings of all winners are included in an exhibit called “My Mother” that travels throughout the world. The idea is not only to honor one’s mother with a fine drawing, but also to demonstrate to other cultures how Mother’s Day is celebrated in Japan.

In India, there is a holiday called Guru Purnima, which in some quarters is becoming an equivalent to Mother’s Day in the United States. This holiday is a time for people to honor the gurus (mentors) in their lives and dates back to the time when many young people went to live with gurus, who helped them develop from young people into mature adults. Today in India, the practice of going to live with a guru for one’s education is no longer common. Although traditionally the young students relied on the male gurus for direction and support, now it is not uncommon for women in India to rely instead on one another for advice and guidance, much as we do in the United States.

An interesting take on Guru Purnima can be found among the many women artisans in Mumbai, India, affiliated with MarketPlace: Handwork of India. MarketPlace is a nonprofit, fair trade organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for women in India by providing economic opportunities, training, and education in leadership.

Collectives of women artisans organized by MarketPlace create the cross-cultural handmade fashions that reach American consumers through MarketPlace’s Internet and catalog sales (for more information, call 800-726-8905). Because these women artisans—nearly all mothers—work together to make decisions as to how their profits will move their collective efforts forward, there is no guru for them to look to and honor during the Guru Purnima festival. Instead, they all share the honor, because they all depend on each other to help them build a better life.

The Guru Purnima festival in India is just one example of how evolving traditions reflect the increasing importance of women in societies all over the world. Changing Mother’s Day traditions indicate that the role of women is changing on a global scale.

Pushpika Freitas, a mother of two, is the director of MarketPlace: Handwork of India (, 800-726-8905), a non-profit organization that conducts catalog, e-commerce, and telephone order sales of wares made by collectives of women artisans in India.

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