Mother’s Day in Germany: What to know about this celebration of motherhood

Mother’s Day in Germany: What to know about this celebration of motherhood

by Sandra Köktaş

Updated June 23, 2023

Mother’s Day is a cherished holiday in Germany — one that celebrates the love, care and sacrifices of mothers everywhere. This special day is marked by thoughtful gestures, heartfelt words and meaningful gifts. Although the celebration of mothers can be traced back to ancient times, German Mother’s Day, as we know it today, is a relatively new invention. If you’ve ever wondered how Mother’s Day in Germany is celebrated, read on.

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The History of Mother’s Day

The concept of honoring mothers can be traced back to ancient festivals dedicated to fertility and motherhood. In medieval Europe, the Church introduced “Mothering Sunday” as a religious celebration on the fourth Sunday of Lent. On this day,  people customarily returned to their “mother” church and presented gifts to their mothers. 

Modern Mother’s Day traces its origins back to the 19th century and specifically to the efforts of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, who organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in the United States. In these clubs, young mothers learned how to care for their children. The clubs acted as a unifying force in a region divided by the Civil War. Following that war, pacifist Julia Ward Howe made her famous Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870, which she positioned as an “Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.” In her speech, Howe asked women everywhere to unite for peace and save their sons from dying in wars. 

This political note soon made way for a more personal touch. Anne Maria Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, and her daughter Anna Marie Jarvis took up the campaign for a national day to honor mothers. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Florists and related industries soon picked up on the gift-giving trend. 

The special day spread all over the world, but not everybody was happy about it. Jarvis, appalled by the commercialism, attempted in vain to have Mother’s Day abolished.

When is Mother’s Day in Germany?

Since medieval times, the German state of Thuringia has celebrated life and mothers on a Sunday in spring. The first Mother’s Day inspired by the US example was celebrated in 1922, on the second Sunday in May. 

The day kept its personal, non-political tradition of honoring the bond between mother and child until the Nazi regime. Nazi leaders then sought to turn Mother’s Day into a specifically German Mother’s Day celebrated on the third Sunday of May, much as they did with the 1 May celebrations. The Gedenk- und Ehrentag der deutschen Mütter (Day of Memorial and Honor for German Mothers) was held to promote the ideal of the “Aryan” mother. In competition with the Church, the ceremony of Mütterweihe (Ordination of Mothers) was introduced and, beginning in 1939, exemplary mothers with four or more “Aryan” children were awarded the Mutterkreuz (Mother’s Cross of Honor). 

From the 1950s onward, Mother’s Day reverted to a secularized and commercialized occasion for expressing love and appreciation on the second Sunday of May. If, on rare occasions, it falls on the same day as Pentecost, Mother’s Day is usually celebrated a week earlier.

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How to celebrate Mother’s Day in Germany

Mother’s Day in Germany is an opportunity for children, young and old, to express their appreciation for their mothers and to make them feel loved and cherished. Spending quality time together and pampering the mother with breakfast in bed and handmade gifts make the day truly special. 

Compared to the US, commercialized gifts and elaborate celebrations, such as brunches and dinners at restaurants, play a less significant role in German Mother’s Day. 

Learn to say “Happy Mother’s Day” in German

There are many ways to say Happy Mother’s Day in German. Popular congratulations are:

  • Alles Gute zum Muttertag!
  • Alles Liebe zum Muttertag!
  • Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Muttertag!

Of course, you can always keep it short and sweet with Schönen Muttertag. If you want to write some special words on a card (or a cake), you can look for Muttertagssprüche.

Gift ideas for Mother’s Day in Germany

You can never go wrong with a bouquet of flowers and a box of high-quality chocolates from a popular German brand. Young children often prepare some arts and crafts at school to commemorate the day. Older children and adults can shop for personalized gifts, such as custom-made jewelry or engraved photo frames. If you’re shopping for a gift for your mother in Germany, it’s a  good time to practice your German lessons in real-life!

In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the shops are overflowing with scented candles and other home-decor items directed at the mother of the house. Be careful with practical kitchen gadgets, though. Your mother might ask why she is reminded of her duties, while Fathers’s Day is all about fun.

German Mother’s Day for expats

If you come from the US, Mother’s Day in Germany will feel familiar. Following the American example, Germans celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May with flowers, cards and gifts. Breakfast in bed, family activities and handmade gifts are the best ways to show your affection and appreciation. There’s only one thing left to do now: Practice how to say “Happy Mother’s Day” in German!

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Sandra Köktas

Sandra lives in Istanbul, together with her kids, cat and dog. As a historian she thrives exploring this ancient city with her two- and four-legged loved ones. Together, they also love to go on adventures through all of Turkey and its neighboring countries. If she’s not on the road, Sandra is busy putting her experiences into writing as a freelance copywriter for the travel industry and everything related to language, culture and family. Her particular interest lies in providing information on animal welfare with her website.

Sandra Köktas

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