When is Mother’s day in France again?

When is Mother's day in France again? Find out how the locals celebrate maman on the last sunday in May, the history of Fête des Mères, and much more.
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Eek!! I just realized that Mother’s day is coming up fast!  Or not so fast, depending on where you are. For my mom in North America, Mother’s day is the 2nd Sunday in May, but for my kids, the Mother’s day in France (Fête des Mères) on the last Sunday in May.

That is a whole 2 weeks later which makes all difference on when to wish your own mum, and at the same time wondering why no one is serving you breakfast in bed!

Why is it different around the world?

So when do you celebrate Mother’s day? A quick look at Wikipedia and there is quite a variety of dates of when we celebrate Mom around the world.

  • In the UK, Ireland and 4 other countries – 4th Sunday in Lent (around March)
  • In the US, Canada, Australia, and 190+ other countries – 2nd Sunday in May
  • In France and 12 other countries – Last Sunday in May

In the U.S. and Canada

The official Mother’s day movement started with an American named Anna Jarvis who was the 9th of 11 children. She was a social activist and upon the death of her own mother, she campaigned for it to become an official holiday. It became officially recognized in the U.S. in 1908, and was adopted a year later in Canada.

With the United States being an economic powerhouse, other countries quickly followed their lead, and today over 190+ countries celebrate Mother’s day on the 2nd Sunday in May.

In the U.K.

In the U.K., on the other hand, it started as a religious holiday called Mothering Sunday. It falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter Day. Since the idea initially was that people would visit their “mother” church, it became an occasion for honoring the mothers of children and giving them presents.

In France

The modern Mother’s day movement may have started with Anna Jarvis in 1908, but the French idea is actually much older. It was actually more than a century earlier, in 1806 when Napoleon Bonaparte first mentioned the creation of an official Mother’s Day in France, which would be celebrated in the spring.

The idea was less about celebrating women than it was about boosting the population. At the time he himself was desperately trying to have children with his wife Empress Josephine. In between his divorce (in 1809), new marriage, his own subsequent children, and the wars with England, his idea never took hold.

More than 90 years later, in 1897, the National Alliance Against Depopulation launched another idea to boost the low birth rate. They came up with a children’s party, to highlight the importance of fertility and to honor the “French family“.

In 1906 ten mothers who had nine children each was given an award recognizing “High Maternal Merit” (“Haut mérite maternel”). Soon after American World War I soldiers fighting in France popularized Jarvis’s American Mother’s Day idea. 

Even today there is a medal by the government for French mothers who have a large family, whether or not they live in France.

But it was not till 1950 when Mother’s day became official in France. Since there are already several other holidays in May, they decided to pick It fixes the date on the last Sunday in May.

☞ READ MORE: French Calendar: Celebrating holidays and traditions in France

Children in France usually make cards in school, little gifts, etc. One thing I’ve noticed though that is for the children to make the efforts, not the dad who pitches in and organizes a big event as you see in North America. (I know several expat moms who complain!)

French Poems for Mother’s Day

Along with little gifts, French moms are usually treated to a poem. Poetry is important in the French educational system, where poetry readings and recitals are not only held in class but also in competitions. (So it is basically a way for teachers to get their kids to learn a poem).

1. Bonheur – Odette Chevalier

Here is one that my kids in maternelle learnt in school called Bonheur, meaning “happiness” by the poet Odette Chevalier:

French PoemEnglish translation
Rester au creux de mon lit douillet,
croquer une tartine grillée,
passer la journée à jouer,
Stay in the hollow of my cozy bed,
bite into a toasted bread,
spend the day playing,
Recevoir de maman un doux baiser,
me blottir dans ses bras et rêver,
c’est beaucoup de bonheur
qui rayonne dans mon coeur. 
Receive a sweet kiss from mom,
snuggle up in her arms and dream,
it’s a lot of happiness
that shines in my heart.

2. À notre mère – Victor Hugo

Another great poem is À notre mère (meaning “to our mother”) by famed writer, poet, and philosopher Victor Hugo:

French PoemEnglish translation
Oh! l’amour d’une mère! 
amour que nul n’oublie! 
Pain merveilleux qu’un Dieu partage et multiplie! 
Oh! the love of a mother!
love that no one forgets!
Wonderful bread that God shares and multiplies!
Table toujours servie au paternel foyer !
Chacun en sa part,
et tous l’ont tout entier !
Table always served at the paternal home!
Each in his part,
and we all have it all!

So does it mean as an expat/immigrant Maman I get two Mother’s days? Not really, although my kids are young and I can work on this for the future 😉  It is perhaps more a moment of thanks and reflection.

Thankfully, Father’s day seems to have more of a consensus:  the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France all celebrate on June 16.   So I guess chalk one for reducing the mental load on this Maman, I only have to remember one date! Win!

To celebrate, I’ve put together a collection of Gifts for Mom, whether she is a Maman Poule or a Maman Cool.  Let’s face it, Moms, Stepmoms, Grandmas, Moms-in-law, they all deserve a big thank you for taking care of us, our spouses, the kids, the furkids, etc. etc. The list never stops, and these Wonder Women handle it all, so we can all wish them well. A bientôt!

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