Mother's Day in France

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Think one Mother's Day a year simply isn't enough? Mums can get a second dose of attention by celebrating France's Fête des Mères a couple of weeks after America has its own particular day.

Mother’s Day is celebrated in France just as it is around the world. It’s the day to treat your mum to something special; a day when she doesn’t have to do anything and you do all the honors, and all the work.


It takes place at a different time from America which celebrates on the second Sunday of May. In France, it's on the last Sunday in May unless Pentecost/Whit Sunday happens to fall on that day, in which case it’s on the first Sunday in June.

In 2019, Fête des Mères falls on Sunday, May 26 in France.


Mothers get cards and flowers, sometimes a short poem written by a child. Or it can be more elaborate; perhaps an outing or a bigger gift while a bottle of bubbly which is always welcome. But this is France, so food is important. In fact in France, any excuse is a good one and as Mother's Day is particularly popular the family makes a special meal.

If it’s fine it can be outside on a terrace or in the garden. Some families celebrate together with friends; others just with close family members. But however big or small, Mother's Day is always a great event.

What to Eat

The meal should be something special. How about cream of watercress soup (this is springtime with all those fresh seasonal ingredients), followed by roasted lemon and rosemary chicken? Or if you're beside the sea, then the freshest shellfish and perhaps a lobster is the food to offer. 

Wherever the family lives, it's always regional, local ingredients that are used. 


France is a large country (the biggest in Europe), with a relatively small population (roughly the same as for the UK). Napoleon Bonaparte apparently first thought of the idea for a day celebrating mothers in 1806 though it was not introduced at the time. However, during the later 19th century, the French government became increasingly worried about the low birth rate and static or declining population, so celebrating the mothers of large families seemed logical. The idea took root in the 1890s; in 1904 mothers were added to the Paternal Union and in 1908 la Ligue Populaire des Pères et Mères de Familles Nombreuses was created, honoring both fathers and mothers of large families. Americans fighting in France in World War I also played a part in bringing to Europe the US Mother’s Day holiday, a tradition established in 1915 by Anne Jarvis in Philadelphia.

The great city of Lyon next got onto the idea, proposing a special Journée Nationale des Mères de familles nombreuses (National Day of Mothers of Large Families) which they first celebrated in 1918. Finally, the French government made it permanent and official on May 20, 1920, with the Médaille de la Famille française.

In 1950 it finally became law with a fixed date. Since then Mother's Day has become one of France's most popular celebrations.

Over the years, hardly surprising given the current preoccupation with population numbers, the necessary qualifications for this peculiarly French honor have changed. In 2013 the number was restricted to 4 children, well-brought-up of course, with the eldest being 16 years old.

Today the honor of the Médaille de la Famille Française is awarded all over France by the different departments. 

Celebrate in French

If you really want to make your mother happy, particularly if you are in France on the date, here's how to wish her Happy Mother's Day: 'Bonne fète, maman'. 

Edited by Mary Anne Evans

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