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Explore holiday traditions from here and across the globe

Mothers' Day: How It All BeganWhen you think of Mothers’ Day, you might think of cards, flowers and gifts. But would you guess that the origins of the holiday actually involve mythology, sheep farming and cereal? Mothers’ Day is a centuries-old tradition that now takes place around the world, but it all started with festivities for a goddess of Mother Earth.

The earliest known celebrations for the holiday took place in ancient Greece, where participants honoured Rhea, their universal mother and heavenly queen. Next to adopt the tradition were the Romans, who organized three-day celebrations for the mother goddess Cybele each year. Then came the British Isles and Celtic Europe. People here honoured the goddess Brigid, and later St. Brigid, on a spring Mothers’ Day correlated with the first seasonal milking of the ewes.

Beginning in the 17th century in Britain, servants and apprentices were given a special day to leave their masters and visit their mothers each year: Mothering Sunday. Just like today, the holiday was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Servants often brought their mums a marzipan pastry, called “mothering cake” or “Simnel cake”, and because of that, the fourth Sunday of Lent is still called Simnel Sunday in some parts of England.

Meanwhile, as Europe became more Christianized, the celebration changed to pay homage to the Mother Church and Mother Mary. Instead of honouring only their mothers, worshipers honoured their religion by going to the nearest large church or cathedral for service.

Because the fasting rules for Lent were taken less strictly on Mothering Sunday, the holiday became known as “Refreshment Sunday.” Many people celebrated by eating fumety, a type of cereal boiled with sugar and spices, at family dinners.

By the 1800s, Mothers’ Day had almost been forgotten in Britain. But that changed with World War II. American military men brought their traditions across the Atlantic, and Mothering Sunday celebrations were revived.

Today, many people thank their mums with flowers on Mothers’ Day. With more than one-third of the UK population purchasing bouquets for their mothers, the holiday is the biggest selling occasion for florists here.

Most European countries and the U.S. celebrate Mothers’ Day on the second Sunday in May, while many Asian and Middle Eastern nations honour their mothers on 10 May. In France, Mothers’ Day is the last Sunday in May, and mothers receive a cake resembling a bouquet of flowers at dinner. Spanish families celebrate the holiday on 8 December – the same day as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – so mothers are honoured alongside Mother Mary.

– Jill Hilbrenner