Happy Mother’s Day, Antwerp. Wait, what?

Happy Mother’s Day, Antwerp. Wait, what?
© Leonardo Wong via Unsplash

Today is the day when the people of Antwerp celebrate Mother’s Day, something the rest of the country (and most of the world) did on the second Sunday in May.

But not in Antwerp. What’s going on?

Well, the answer, now surprisingly, goes back to Roman Catholicism. Today, 15 August, the the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in the Catholic calendar. And since Mary is recognised as the mother of Jesus, her feast day – which marks the occasion when she was taken up into Heaven without having to die first – becomes the day to celebrate all mothers.

The idea of a celebration of motherhood, of course, dates back to antiquity

The Mother’s Day celebrated by the rest of us only dates back to 1908, and was instituted by the social activist Anna Jarvis as a religious celebration of mothers. She even stipulated the spelling Mother’s Day, pointing out that the term should "be a singular possessive, for each family to honour its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world."

And the May date is not as universal as you may think. While that is the date adopted by the marketplace for celebration of mothers – Jarvis herself began to distance herself from the festival because of growing commercialisation – many other cultures than Antwerp would beg to differ.

Norway celebrates in February; Albania, Kosovo and Armenia among many others in March; Albania takes another bite of the cherry in April; May is the preferred month for a vast number of countries, from Anguilla to Zimbabwe.

And August is shared between Antwerp and Costa Rica.

Antwerp, as it happens, started celebrating Mother’s Day a year before it caught on elsewhere, and the Feast of the Assumption offered the obvious date for the celebration of motherhood.

And it doesn’t stop there. Father’s Day also has a different date in Antwerp. Second Sunday in June for most of the world; 19 March for the people of Antwerp. The reason: that is the name day of Joseph of Nazareth.

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