Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Gentle Reminder

Listen up, children. Ecoutez, les enfants.

First, let's get the 2007 facts in order. This year the US celebrates Mother's Day next Sunday, May 13. France celebrates Mother's Day on Sunday, June 3. While this may cause some turmoil or confusion for transatlantic/binational families, I'm sure you can sort it all out. Until some body politic changes something, France and the US will honor mamans and mommies on separate Sundays. Nothing is ever that simple, of course. So we just have to deal with it.

I have spent much of my childhood and adulthood totally slavish to Mother's Day (right, Mom?). Even so, I had always believed that its genesis was from commercial Hallmark-card-and-florist interests. Couldn't be further from the truth.

It tums out that Mother's Day in the US was a women's movement first started by Julia Ward Howe (most famous for "Battle Hymn of the Republic") as a peace movement, then later by Miss Anna M. Jarvis in tribute to her own mother and all mothers. Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill officially recognizing the day, and fixing on the second Sunday of May.

La Fête des Mères in France, on the other hand, rose from somewhat different circumstances. Mostly promoted by men, for starters. In 1806 Napoleon, eager to encourage women to produce large numbers of little French patriots, promoted a Mother's Day in the spring. It wasn't until much later, in various 20th century governments, that the day was established as an official day to celebrate. Finally in 1950 the French Assemblée Nationale passed a bill officializing Mother's Day, and setting the date as the last Sunday in May. (If the last Sunday in May happens to also be Pentecost, then Mother's Day is bumped to the next Sunday, the first weekend in June, which is what has happened this year.) There are so many other May holidays in France, I guess there just wasn't a spot for Mother's Day on the same ticket. (Kind of the way that we enter Daylight Savings Time at different dates.)

When all is said and done, though, my vote goes to Mothers' Day in England, where they at least put the apostrophe in the right place.

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