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Mother’s Day in Ancient Greece

Mother's Day
Ancient Greeks and their respect for mothers. Public domain

Ancient Greeks had a lot of respect for the mother and honored her accordingly as the life-giver, centuries before Mother’s Day was celebrated in the West.

Mother Earth (Gaia), wife of Uranus, was the personification of nature that gives birth to everything and she was worshipped as the ultimate deity.

Gaia is the ancestral mother—sometimes parthenogenic—of all life. She is the mother of Uranus (the sky), from whose sexual union she bore the Titans (themselves parents of many of the Olympian gods), the Cyclopes, and the Giants; as well as of Pontus (the sea), from whose union she bore the primordial sea gods.

Her worship then passed to her daughter Rhea, wife, and sister of Cronus, who gave birth to several deities in Greek mythology.

Rhea was worshipped as the ‘Mother of Gods’ and ancient Greeks used to celebrate their annual spring festival to honor Rhea, the goddess of nature and fertility.

Rhea was often referred to as Meter Theon (“Mother of the Gods”) and there were several temples around Ancient Greece dedicated to her under that name.

Pausanias mentioned temples dedicated to Rhea under the name Meter Theon in Anagyros in Attika, Megalopolis in Arkadia, on the Acropolis of Ancient Corinth, and in the district of Keramaikos in Athens, where the statue was made by Pheidias.

The center of the worship of Rhea was however on Crete, where Mount Ida was said to be the birthplace of Zeus. Reportedly, there was a “House of Rhea” in Knossos.

Mother’s day in ancient Rome and today

Ancient Romans also celebrated a spring festival by the name of Hilaria in honor of mother goddess Cybele, some 250 years before Christ was born.

Later, Christian Greece honored the mother associated with the feast of Ypapanti (Feb. 2). The Οrthodox Church celebrates the day the Virgin Mary, with Joseph, took the 40-day-old Jesus to the temple to be blessed.

However, in the 1960s, the celebration of Ypapanti lost its popularity, and Greeks started honoring the mother on the second Sunday of May as the rest of the West, even though the Church insists on the old day of celebration.

The modern celebration of Mother’s Day was established in the 20th century and comes from the American women’s movement.

Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis organized for the first time in 1865 the Mothers Friendships Day movement and meetings called Mothers’ Day Meetings, where mothers exchanged views and experiences.

In 1870 Julia Ward Howe organized an event of mothers gathering under the slogan ‘peace and motherhood’ to prevent children from being sent to war.

Today, millions of people across the globe take the day as an opportunity to honor their mothers, thank them for their efforts in giving them life, raising them, and being their constant support and well-wisher.

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