Sunday, May 29, 2016

La Fête des Mères

This year, France is celebrating La Fête des Mères a celebration that originated centuries ago, on Sunday 29 May. Celebrating women is not a modern concept! It goes back to Greek mythology when Rhea, the mother of all gods and goddesses was duly celebrated during spring. The Romans took over the celebration and the cult of Cybele, the mother of all the Roman gods, survived until the 4th century AD.
The French thought of celebrating mothers and their families as early as in 1806 when Napoleon I intended to implement an official date! But alas, History decided otherwise! The next attempt to create a Mothers’ Day occurred in 1906, a century later, in the little village of Artas in the department of Isère and at the instigation of a man named Prosper Roche who founded the Union Fraternelle in order to pay tribute to the parents of large families. Artas has since been recognized as the cradle of the Fête des Mères celebration.
The city of Lyon followed the example and organized a Mothers’ Day in 1918 to pay tribute to all the women who lost a son and/or husband during World War I, a conflict during which the loss of human lives was astronomical. A couple of years later a Mothers’ Day celebrating the women of large families was implemented in order to encourage women to have children and repopulate a country that had lost 10.5% of its active male population! The celebrations included the award of a medal,“Médailles de la Famille Française”, to those who had many children. However, it was not until 1929 that La Fête des Mères became an official celebration.
It didn’t become part of the calendar until 1941, though, when Marshal Pétain re-launched the celebration during World War II, once more in order to encourage the re-population of the country! The notion of family and housewife were to become the base of the French society for the years to follow. The celebration was very controversial at the time, not only because it had been implemented by the Regime of Vichy, but also because many thought that it was a sexist concept that denied emancipation to women; in other words that recognized them only good enough to have children, cook and clean.
People seemed to have forgotten that women had been working in factories to replace the men who were fighting at the front, they had contributed to the war effort, they had proven that they were equal to men and now they were being asked to return to their cooking? The stigma remained for a only few years, however, as women’s suffrage was granted by General Charles De Gaulle at the end of the war (better late than never!) and they painfully but successfully gained their emancipation! French Mothers’ Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in May, unless Pentecost falls on that day, when it is then transferred to the first Sunday in June.
Gai Jacobs

Courtesy Travel France Online -

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