Mothers' Day has its origins in the times of the ancient Greeks. / sur

Why is Mothers' Day celebrated in Spain on the first Sunday in May?

Unlike Fathers' Day, there is no fixed date for this celebration, but its origins go back a very long time

ISABEL MÉNDEZ Malaga

This Sunday is a red-letter day on the calendar in Spain, because not only is it May Day but it also happens to be Mothers’ Day this year. Unlike Fathers’ Day (19 March), there is no fixed date for it: it always falls on the first Sunday in May.

Why is it commemorated this way? The origin of the ‘ Día de la Madre’, as it is called in Spain, goes back to ancient Greece, where they used to honour Rhea, the mother of the Greek gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, among others. This feast day became so important that the Romans joined in as well, and set 15 March as the day for their tribute to mothers. The day was called Hilaria, and involved three days of offerings in the temple of Cybele.

The Catholic church in Europe also honoured the Virgin Mary, although it was not until 8 December 1854 that Pope Pio IX decided it should coincide with the Day of the Immaculate Conception. Then, in the 20th century, US president Woodrow Wilson declared in 1914 that Mothers’ Day was to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. His support for that date was significant, but more important still was the work begun by two women, beforehand.

The first was activist Julia Ward Howe, who organised a huge pacifist demonstration and religious celebration in Boston in 1870, in which the protagonists were all the mothers who had been victims of the American Civil War. Years later, early in the 20th century, Anna Reeves Jarvis, a housewife in the USA, picked up the thread which Julia had begun and started to campaign nationally for Mothers’ Day to be the second Sunday in May. Then came the official decision from President Wilson. Gradually, elsewhere in the world, countries began to celebrate Mothers’ Day, although the dates did not always coincide.

In Spain there are records from 1330 showing the creation of religious brotherhoods in tribute to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception in Girona, and Mothers’ Day also began to be celebrated on that day, 8 December. However, after the US president made his decision, it was decided to separate Mothers’ Day from the celebration of the Immaculate Conception.

May 1965 was when Mothers’ Day was moved to May in Spain, because it is the month of the Virgin, and the authorities opted for the first Sunday of that month, as did those in Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal and South Africa, among others. However, in other parts of the world it is still celebrated on the second Sunday in May, such as in Germany, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, China, Croatia, Cuba, Ecuador, the Philippines and Italy.