Tomorrow, Thursday, May 10th, is Mother’s Day in México. It is always on the 10th of May. My wife Gina is taking the afternoon off to go to her mother’s house with a hired helper to clean the house from top to bottom in anticipation of tomorrow’s celebration. In the United States Mother’s Day is always on the second Sunday of May regardless of the date. In 2009 the second Sunday of May fell on May 10th and so that year the people of both Mexico and the United States honored their Mothers on the same day. That won’t happen again until the year 2020. Why does Mexico celebrate Mother’s Day on a fixed date and the United States celebrate Mother’s Day on a variable date but both in the first half of May? It's a rather long story. Originally they celebrated on the same date but things got a bit confused along the way. The important thing is that Mothers everywhere get their due. Let’s take a look at how the whole thing got started.
First of all, celebrating motherhood is nothing new. The practice goes way back in history all over the world. In England it evolved into “Mothering Day” which was a Sunday in Lent when servants were given the day off to return to their ancestral home and visit their mothers and share time with their families. The practice did not fare well in the American colonies at first and it wasn’t until after the bloodshed of the American Civil War and during the Franco Prussian war that an interest in celebrating Mother’s Day was revived. A lady named Julia Ward Howe, who in 1861 wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, made a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870. She called on mother’s the world over to come together and protest the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. Her motive was not so much to revere motherhood as it was to use motherhood as a catalyst for peace. During the ensuing years the celebration of Mother’s Day was disorganized and sporadic but the seed that Julia Ward Howe planted began to grow.
At the same time that Julia Ward Howe was writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” there was a lady in West Virginia named Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis who was organizing women to work for the well-being of their communities by holding “Mother's Work Days”, which were days when groups of women dedicated themselves to campaigns involving better hygiene, sanitation, and medical care in the small communities of rural West Virginia. During the Civil War she helped not only her neighbors but wounded soldiers from both sides as well and through all that she managed to keep peace among the various political factions in her neighborhood. Taking their cue from Julia Ward Howe, a women’s group led by Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis began to celebrate an adaptation of Howe’s idea called “Mother’s Friendship Day” in order to re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War. Her many humanitarian efforts were only cut short by her death on Tuesday, May 9th, 1905.
After Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. The idea for Mother's Day came to Miss Jarvis on May, 9th 1907, the second anniversary of her mother's death, which happened to fall on a Thursday. On May 10, 1908 which was the second Sunday in May, the first official Mother's Day celebration took place at Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. From there the idea spread from state to state and foreign countries as well, including Mexico. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother's Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. This may be where the fixed date versus variable date separation took place. What had been originally celebrated May 10th had now been officially transferred to the second Sunday.
In Mexico City in 1917 a young man of 28 from the State of Puebla named Rafael Alducin Bedolla founded what was to become an important newspaper called Excelsior. In April of 1922 he invited all interested parties to a convention to propose a nationwide holiday in Mexico dedicated to Mexican motherhood. As a result of this convention the first official Mexican “Día de la Madre” was celebrated on May, 10th, 1922. Guess what…it was a Wednesday! Why they didn’t follow the second Sunday idea we’ll probably never know. If anyone does know, please tell me. Father’s day in Both Mexico and the United States is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. This year Father’s Day in both countries will fall on Sunday, June 17th.
There are various ways that Mexican people celebrate Mother’s Day depending upon their local customs. Here in Irapuato, Guanajuato, where I live, it is the custom to stand outside of the mother’s house after midnight and sing “Mañanitas”, a very old traditional song. It is usually reserved for the Blessed Virgin, Mother’s Day, and birthday celebrations. If the people are wealthy they may hire Mariachis to do their singing or perhaps a small “Norteño” type band. Some people, who are not so wealthy, band together and go in turn to the houses of each of their mothers with the men singing one part and the women singing another part. It is very beautiful. The night doesn’t end until everyone’s mother has been serenaded. On the morning of May 10th the mothers usually attend morning mass at their local church and after mass the children treat mother to breakfast. In the afternoon everyone gathers at the home of the oldest mother in the family and the ladies make chicken with mole sauce, jalapeños, corn tortillas, and red rice. If they don’t want to cook they send out for “carnitas” (braised pork) which is another favorite dish and it is served with refried beans, tortillas, and rice. Afterwards there is a desert of either ice cream or cake or both. Oh, yes, I almost forgot…there is generally plenty of tequila too, usually served with the carbonated soft drink “Squirt”. It is a special time that reunites the family with the mother at the center. Here is the Mother’s day version of “Mañanitas:
Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David.
Hoy por ser día de las madres, te las cantamos a ti.
Despierta Mamá despierta mira que ya amaneció.
Ya los pajaritos cantan. La luna ya se metió.
Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte.
Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.
Ya viene amaneciendo. Y a la luz del día nos dio.
Levántate Madre mía. Mira que ya amaneció.