Mother's Day Celebrations in France

Young mother and child walking in park with dog
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Celebrating Mother's Day certainly isn't unique to the United States. Many people from other countries honor the matriarch of their household on their own special day, each year. In France, the equivalent of Mother's Day, La Fête des Mères, typically takes place on the last Sunday in May or the first Sunday of June. The history of this French holiday dates back to the 1800s and was adopted as a way to honor the mothers of large families whose husbands had fought in World War I.

Today, French families celebrate together en famille over a Sunday lunch on Mother's Day, and flowers and small gifts are given to both mothers and grandmothers. Tourists looking for a special Mother's Day outing can join in on local customs, as the streets of Paris are teeming with a festive vibe on this day.

History of Fête des Mères

In France (the largest country in Europe), the tradition of La Fête des Mères dates back to a 19th-century concern by the French government over low birth rates and a declining population. They crafted the idea to dedicate a day for celebrating mothers who were caring for large families, perhaps to encourage them, and others, to continue having more children. It is believed that Napoleon Bonaparte first proposed the idea in 1806, but the honorary day didn't fully exist until the 1890s.

In 1904, mothers were added to the Paternal Union, and in 1908, la Ligue Populaire des Pères et Mères de Familles Nombreuses (the "Popular League of Fathers and Mothers of Large Families") was created to honor both parents equally. Soon after, World War I began, leaving many French mothers to care for their children, and in some cases, take on a job outside of the house while their husbands were away at war. Americans stationed in France during World War I played a large part in bringing Mother’s Day traditions to Europe. Then finally, in 1920, the French government made La Fête des Mères an official holiday by giving out a Médaille de la Famille française (an award for successfully raising several children) on May 20, 1920.

La Fête des Mères (Mother's Day) Dates

While the United States celebrates Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May, France's La Fête des Mères takes place on the last Sunday in May, unless Pentecost (a holy day following Easter) happens to fall on that same day. In this case, La Fête des Mères lands on the first Sunday in June. It is not considered a government holiday in France, but you can expect many businesses—with the exception of most restaurants—to close. If you're traveling to France during the month of May, here are La Fête des Mères dates for the next few years:

  • May 30, 2021
  • May 29, 2022
  • Jun 4, 2023
  • May 26, 2024
  • May 25, 2025

French Mother's Day Celebrations

Spread happy Mother's Day wishes in France with the phrase "bonne Fête des Mères," or if you know someone more intimately, it's appropriate to wish a less formal "bonne fête Maman." French mothers traditionally receive cards, flowers, perfume, and handmade gifts from their kids, just like in the United States. Sometimes families plan a celebratory outing, often complete with a bottle of bubbly. Food is an important part of the celebration (obviously—it's France), so Mother's Day warrants a special meal, either made at home or eaten out at a restaurant. Consider cream of watercress soup, which is a springtime favorite in France, or enjoy a bounty of seafood if you're visiting the coast. There is no traditional Mother's Day spread, per se, but cakes and cookies are common desserts.

Things to Do for Mother's Day in France

If you're visiting France during La Fête des Mères, celebrate the day by enjoying lunch with your family at a classic French bistro or do the touristy thing and enroll in a French cooking class or take a boat ride on the Seine.

  • Grab some flowers in Paris. Parisian streets are lined with blooming buds. In fact, there's a florist in almost every neighborhood. Treat yourself to a bouquet of fresh flowers to brighten up your VRBO or hotel room.
  • Go out for lunch. Many French bistros offer specials during La Fête des Mères, complete with a bottle of nice French wine. Since this is usually a daytime affair, you're expected to take your time, sample several menu items, and spend the afternoon at your table. Pick a spot that's good for people-watching.
  • Enroll in a French cooking class. Plan your itinerary around a special culinary event for mom. Le Foodist offers cooking classes for both home chefs and bakers. Their "market to table" class offers a unique way to experience French culture, by first visiting local markets, and then going back to the kitchen to cook up your finds.
  • Cruise the river. Book a riverboat ride on the Seine River in Paris. Bateaux Parisiens offers both a lunch and dinner cruise that takes you by sites like the Eiffel Tower, the Institut de France, and the Notre Dame cathedral. Aboard, you'll enjoy a four-course meal and a selection of fine wines.
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