Mother's Day in France is celebrated on the last Sunday in May. If the celebration overlaps with the celebration of Pentecost, then the first feast is carried over to the first Sunday of June.
Mother's Day celebrations in France before the First World War
In 1806, Napoleon I instituted a special day in honour of the mothers of large families. This was to encourage women to start large families and increase the fertility of the French. The idea of Mother's Day was restored by teacher Prosper Roche. This man founded an organization in 1904 called "Union fratervelle des pers famiglies", which means "Fraternal Association of Fathers of Families." In the same year, he delivered a speech to members of the organization, demanding that Mother's Day be celebrated. In his speech, he complained that women, along with their toil, are not honoured by society, while, for example, the efforts of soldiers fighting for their homeland are appreciated. In his arguments, he went even further, saying that "even plants win rosettes" (sic!), while women's toil goes unnoticed. In 1904 the text of the speech was sent to the Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, which was an advisory body to the government and was involved in taking up social initiatives. The document has an eccentric style, as exemplified by the following sentence: "Glory and praise to the Lord, who give birds to nests, bees to hives and children to homes!"
High Maternal Merit
Roche had the idea of rewarding mothers of large families with diplomas. These diplomas can be admired today in the museum in the city where Roche was active. In 1906, in connection with the appeal of the aforementioned teacher, another attempt was made to establish a celebration in honour of mothers. It happened on June 10, 1906, at Artas in Isare. On this occasion, two women were honoured, Maria Philippa and Maria-Luisa Bouvard. They were given flowers and received cash prizes. Both mothers were also presented with recognition awards, talking about "High Maternal Merit." These women were mothers of nine children.
Mothers Day and demographic needs
In 1916, in Lyon, celebrations were held in honour of the mothers of soldiers who died during the First World War. Similar ceremonies were held at the same location in 1918. They were aimed at raising the morale of mothers whose sons were killed during the First World War. The purpose of the ceremony was to awaken pride in being a mother and to encourage French women to have more children. This was to remedy the demographic decline that was a consequence of World War I. Two years later, another celebration took place, during which mothers of large families were honoured with medals. And so, mothers of 4 or 5 children received a bronze medal, 6 or 7 silver, 9 or more gold. Interestingly, a similar idea was used much later by Adolf Hitler, who also rewarded women who gave birth to a large number of offspring in this way.
Mother's Day celebrations during World War II
The Pro-Nazi regime in Vichy also enacted its Mother's Day celebrations. In 1941, the holiday was initiated by Philippe Petain. In 1943, the government even issued a booklet called "Mothers Day Guide." It describes the celebrations of women's holidays, invented by the Vichy propagandists, as well as folk songs and traditions related to the attitude of the mother. In 1942 the National Center for the Coordination and Action of Family Movements, organized a competition of artworks, to enhance the celebration of Mothers Day. The text, which won, reads that the house of the woman is her cloister and that she lives in voluntarily privation. The lyrical subject of the poem (which was entitled "Mother's Psalm"), although describing the monotony of the activities in which she-the mother, indulges herself, she does not complain; on the contrary, she wants a fate like that to last. It is noteworthy that the mother, set as an example, does not feel joy in the activities performed and does not see in them the fullness of life and fulfilment of her desires, but considers herself a martyr. Therefore, we can assume that a large part of the propaganda texts was written on special order by people who did not have families themselves or were not even women.
Mother's Day in France today
Mother's Day is celebrated in French homes and schools. Mothers get flowers, chocolates, and gifts made by children with their own hands. If the children are grown up, they often invite their mother to dinner. According to a poll by YouGov in 2021, Mother's Day (Fete des Meres) is important to 67% of French people.
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