Backlash after school abolishes Mother’s Day

Picture perfect: Gustav Klimt’s painting Mother and Child shows an idealised motherly pose.

Should Family Day replace Mother’s Day? That is what a school in Belgium has done, sparking intense debate. Some think the change is progressive, but others say old traditions must survive.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and children across the UK will soon be buying gifts and cards or planning a surprise breakfast-in-bed. But some families in Belgium may be in for a different kind of celebration after a nursery school announced it will no longer mark the occasion.

Instead, children at the Catteau-Aurore school in Brussels will celebrate “family day” — making gifts and cards to take home to all their loved ones.

A letter from the school claimed the change will allow all children to participate “whether they have one mother, a mother and a stepmother, two fathers, or a grandmother”. And headteacher Nadine Joannes called the change “adapting to society”.

However, some parents were not impressed. Miriam, a local parent, insisted that “we should keep celebrating mothers”.

Indeed in Britain, Mother’s Day traditions show little sign of abating. Last year, all the flowers, chocolates, cards and other gifts bought in the UK were worth almost £1.4 billion.

But the holiday itself has far less commercial origins. Ever since the 1500s Mothering Sunday was a day for Christians to return to their mother church for a special service. And in later times, servants would be given the day off to visit their families — children often picking flowers for their mother on the way home.

However, mothers hold a significance to humanity that stretches far across the world, and deeper into the past.

The basic form of the word “mama” is extraordinary for the huge number of languages it is shared by: including Mandarin (mama), Eskimo (anana) and Fijian (nana).

And mothers are central to the myths of countless cultures which attempt to explain our very existence.

In ancient Greek legend, everything was chaos in the universe before the mother goddess, Gaia, arose and sparked all life on Earth. And in Buddhism, the goddess Guanyin is the patron of mothers and the “goddess of mercy”, who gives assistance to anyone who prays to her.

So should we really be ditching Mother’s Day?

Mamma mia

Time’s up, argue some. The history is fascinating but the world has changed. Modern families now take many forms: children increasingly raised by stepmothers or even two fathers. Having a Family Day instead lets children celebrate and thank the loving adults in their lives — whoever they may be. It is the modern way.

Tradition matters, others respond. Of course Mother's day is not just for biological mothers, but for whoever we consider mother figures in our lives. The point is the word “mother” speaks to a particularly profound and special relationship that we share with only one, or very few, people. And this historic meaning would be lost if Family Day became the norm.

You Decide

  1. Should Mother’s Day be replaced with Family Day?
  2. Has Mother’s Day become too commercial?

Activities

  1. It is time to play word association! In one minute write down as many words as you can that you associate with the term “Mother”. Discuss with your class. What words are the most popular? Choose just one word that sums up what “Mother” means to you.
  2. Find two to three examples of mother figures throughout mythology — Gaia is a good place to start. Then answer these questions: What do these mother figures have in common? How is the role of the mother different in modern society?

Some People Say...

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”

Honore de Balzac

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
While the Catteau-Aurore school in Brussels has stopped celebrating Mother’s Day, there are no plans for the holiday to be abolished in the UK. However, Family Day is a public holiday in several other countries, including Australia, Canada and South Africa.
What do we not know?
Mother’s Day has evolved significantly since its Christian origins and it is difficult to predict how it will change long into the future. One common idea now is that we should not just use the holiday to celebrate our birth mothers, but people who we consider mother figures. Journalist Nell Frizzell thinks we should celebrate a wider group of people from “stepmums to school nurses”.

Word Watch

Belgium
Mother’s Day in Belgium takes place slightly later than the UK, marked on the second Sunday of May.
Mothering Sunday
Always held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and therefore the date of modern Mother’s Day in the UK. In America, Mother’s Day is celebrated in May.
Mother church
This was either the church in which you were baptised, your local parish church or the nearest cathedral.
Shared by
Linguist Roman Jakobson worked out the reason why. It is because the vowel sound “ah” and consonant sound “mm” are the easiest for a baby to make, thus the first thing babies say often sounds something like “mama”. With mothers traditionally spending the most amount of time with newborn babies, the phrase “mama” naturally got associated with them and incorporated into languages across the world.
Gaia
Often referred to as Mother Earth or Mother Nature.
Goddess
In Buddhist culture she is known as a Bodhisattva, meaning one that has attained enlightenment, motivated by the compassion to help others.

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