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Festival of Hilaria in Ancient Rome, celebrating Cibele.

La Festa della Mamma – Honoring Wonderful Mothers

In Italy, Mother’s Day is always celebrated on the second Sunday in May just as it is here in the United States, and will this year fall on May 13. We know you have your own special customs for celebrating Mother’s Day, but we would like to share with you the ways in which mothers are remembered on this day in Italy.

Mother’s Day is a very important holiday in Italy, as mothers are revered as the epicenter of the Italian family. Mother’s Day in Italy is far less commercialized than it is in America. La Festa della Mamma is a day when children of every age make their personal expressions of love and appreciation for their Mamma. Even though Mother’s Day was not made an official Italian holiday until the 1950s, celebrations dedicated to mothers date back to the ancient Roman culture. The very first week of spring was a time of great celebration and was dedicated to Cibele, the Roman goddess of nature and widely venerated as La Grande Madre or “Great Mother.” There were also other festivals held in April in her honor, in which processions and races took place at the Circo Massimo, a grand Italian racing stadium.

The Roman goddess Giunone or Juno, was also commemorated as the goddess of marriage and motherhood. Her name means “vital force” and is a great description for all Italian mothers. To celebrate the goddess, the Romans held a series of festivals called Matronalia. Flowers by the bushel were brought to decorate Juno’s temple and incense was burned to commemorate her. Another tradition of the time was to marry during Juno’s month – the month of June, to ensure a good marriage and fertility. This custom is still maintained in modern weddings, with June being the most popular month for weddings on the calendar.

Over time and with the coming of Christianity, the practice of celebrating mothers as a life source evolved into a religious festival. “Mother” was thus refered to as La Madonna, the Mother of the Church and the giver of spiritual life. An early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday” called for the faithful to return to their “mother church,” meaning the church in which they were baptized, for a special service. Over time, the Mothering Sunday tradition shifted into a more secular holiday and children would present their mothers with flowers and small, often handmade gifts. For Italian mothers, attending church on Mother’s Day morning is still an important part of tradition.

The first official celebration of Mother’s Day in Italy took place on May 12, 1957, in Assisi, thanks to the initiative of Rev. Otello Migliosi, parish priest of the Tordibetto Church. The event was so successful that the following year, Mother’s Day was adopted throughout Italy and in 1958, a proposal was presented to the Italian Senate to make it an official holiday.

The day itself centers on activities which bring the whole family together. La Mamma is not allowed to do any housework on her special day. Breakfast is prepared for her, along with fresh pastries and coffee and of course, the custom of presenting her with homemade gifts and handpicked flowers are still the tradition. The most common types of flowers that are purchased for le mamme are delicate pink roses and schoolchildren will typically compose and memorize poems to be recited to their mothers.

Lunch will be held either in the family home, or increasingly, at a local restaurant. Italian Mother’s Day has become the most popular day of the year to dine out in Italy.  Wherever it is held, there will be flowers on the table and delicious food for all. The meal is always rounded off with a sweet cake, the most popular being an Italian cheesecake and perhaps a liqueur coffee.

In Italy, the most important aspect of Mother’s Day is spending time with family. Older children return home if possible and those who cannot send a card, letter, poem or phone call. In Italy, the highest volume of phone calls throughout the year is always on Mother’s Day, as children take the opportunity to express their gratitude to their mothers.

Buona festa della mamma!