Liberaal Archief/Liberas

Antwerp celebrates Mothers’ Day on 15 August

While the rest of the country celebrates Mothers’ Day on the second Sunday in May, Mother’s in Antwerp and the surrounding area have their special day on 15 August that is also the Christian feast of the Assumption of Mary. The only other place in the world where Mother’s Day is also celebrated today is Costa Rica. While some might accuse the people of Antwerp of being awkward by celebrating Mother’s Day on a different day to the rest of us, you shouldn’t forget that Antwerp celebrated Mothers’ Day long before it became customary to do so in the rest of the country.

The Mothers’ Day in the rest of Belgium and dozens of other countries all over the world is in fact an American import. In 1870 a judge from Philadelphia started a campaign for the establishment of a Mothers’ Day. The day was to be one of pacifism and disarmament. However, despite these noble aims the idea didn’t catch.  

It was a different story when Anna Marie Jarvis from West Virginia proposed the establishment of a Mothers’ Day to show Mums just how much they are valued. She held the World’s first ever Mothers’ Day in her home state in 1908. The idea caught on in other states too and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson decreed that in future the second Sunday in May should be Mothers’ Day. The American Mothers’ Day soon spread to other countries and by the 1920’s people here were celebrating Mothers’ Day in May, except of course in Antwerp where they had already been celebrating Mothers’ Day on 15 August since 1913.       

Kabinet van de schepen van Cultuur/Stad Antwerpen

Frans Van Kuyck

In 1913 the Antwerp liberal Alderman and artist Frans Van Kuyck (painting below) introduced a Mothers’ Day celebration on 15 August, the Feast of Mary. Mary had been the Patron Saint of Antwerp since the Middle Ages and a Mary procession was held of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary   

Frans Van Kuyck was concerned of the up and coming modernisation that had disturbed the social order since the start of the 20th century. He believed that this could be best countered by restoring and encouraging family values. The launch of a Mothers’ Day was part and parcel of this.  

The Alderman moblised the local press and schools and even set up a special committee and published a brochure outlining his proposals for Mothers’ Day and how it should be celebrated.  

Children and Fathers should surprise mothers by decorating things, for example a chair. They should also write verses showing their appreciation for and love of the mother of the family. Flowers are cake should be given as gifts.  

Frans Van Kuyck’s idea was a great success with the flower sellers on the Groenplaats selling out quickly to those wanting to surprise Mum.

Since then Antwerp (and the surrounding area) has always celebrated Mothers’ Day on 15 August.