Mother's Day Celebrations in France

Young mother and child walking in park with dog
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Mother's Day certainly isn't unique to the United States, but other countries do tend to celebrate theirs during different times of year. In the UK, Mother's Day is a March holiday, and in France, it will occasionally land in June. Typically a few weeks after Mother's Day occurs in the U.S. comes the French version: Fête des Mères.

History of Fête des Mères

Although France is the largest country in Europe, it has only about the same number of residents as the UK (around 67 million). The tradition of Mother's Day dates back to the 19th century, when low birth rate and a declining population became a concern for the French government. Thus, the idea came about to celebrate those mothers who were caring for large families, perhaps to encourage them to continue having more. Although it is said that Napoleon Bonaparte first thought of it in 1806, it didn't actually take root 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. The Americans who were stationed in France during World War I also played a large part in bringing Mother’s Day traditions to Europe.

Lyon was the first to propose a special journée nationale des mères de familles nombreuses (a national day of mothers of large families), which was first celebrated in 1918. Finally, the French government made it an official holiday with the Médaille de la Famille française (an award for successfully raising several children) on May 20, 1920.

Dates for Mother's Day in France

Whereas the U.S. celebrates Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May, France's Fête des Mères takes place on the last Sunday in May. That is unless Pentecost (a holy day following Easter that is also called "White Sunday") happens to fall on that day, in which case it will take place on the first Sunday in June. It is not a public holiday in France, but you can expect many businesses—with the exception of most restaurants—to close anyway. In 2020, Fête des Mères falls on Sunday, June 7. 

French Mother's Day Celebrations

You can spread happy Mother's Day wishes in France with the phrase "bonne Fête des Mères," or if you know someone more intimately, it would be appropriate to wish a less formal "bonne fête maman." Mothers traditionally receive cards, flowers, perfume, and handmade gifts from their kids, just like in the U.S. Sometimes families will plan a celebratory outing, often with a bottle of bubbly involved. Food is important (obviously—it's France), so Mother's Day warrants a special meal, either made at home or eaten at a restaurant. Consider cream of watercress soup, which is a springtime favorite, or a bounty of seafood for folks along the coast. There is no traditional Mother's Day spread, per se, but cakes and cookies are common desserts.

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