San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ticos: Don’t Mess With Mother’s Day

One year, just before Mother’s Day, 20-year-old José got on the local bus carrying an ironing board and received a lot of jesting from neighbors: “José, you get your mother flowers or perfume, not an ironing board, for Mother’s Day.”

But José knew what his mom really wanted. Hadn’t she often said so when she set up the ironing on the table between meals? Besides, his brother was getting her a plant.

For their mother, the gifts counted. She didn’t ask for presents – didn’t expect them. But for her, they were tokens of love for the years of caring, guiding, helping, nursing, teaching manners, correcting errors and suffering through mishaps.

Honoring mothers goes back to ancient times when Mother Nature and fertility goddesses were respected, celebrated and worshipped. The ancient Greeks held festivities to Rhea, the mother of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, who was considered the “Supreme Mother.” Later civilizations also paid respect to motherhood. In 17th-century England, Mothering Sunday meant a day off work to visit mother and pay respects. Even then, the day was commercialized with the sale of special cakes for mom.

In modern times, many countries have established Mother’s Day, albeit on different days. In Catholic Costa Rica, Law 79, passed Aug. 10, 1932, placed Mother’s Day on Aug. 15, the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. The celebrations began with morning Mass, with white-and-gold vestments and altar cloths to honor the mother of God and all other mothers. The day was both a holy day and a holiday.

Two years ago, the Legislative Assembly decided to move several holidays, including Mother’s Day, to the following Mondays in order to give workers a long weekend. Some mothers liked the idea because they got to celebrate their day twice. Others regretted the change because their children worked or had school on the traditional date. Returning Mother’s Day to Aug. 15 became the subject of debate in the legislature, parks, homes and wherever people gathered, and this year the holiday was moved back to its traditional date.

No matter the date or the commercial offerings, discounts, prizes and contests to flood mothers with merchandise, the day provides all of us with a reminder of the women who most influenced our lives. They are not always birth mothers. Grandmothers, stepmothers, foster mothers, godmothers, adoptive mothers, aunts and other women also help make us who we are.

Yajaira and Jimmy are young parents who want to pass on to their baby the same values they learned from their own mothers; spirituality, sensitivity and strength head the list. Yajaira, a triplet, admires her mother for taking care of three babies plus three other children on a very small budget.

A professional woman, Denise, credits her mother with teaching her honesty. With a laugh, she remembers how she stole ¢26 from her mother’s purse to buy candy.

“Did she ever teach me to be honest!” she says.

Roberto will soon become the first in his family to graduate from high school. He says he learned responsibility and hard work, especially for studying, from his mother. She goes without a lot to see that her three children finish school, he adds.

In another family, the mother works as a live-in maid to support her five children, whom she leaves in the care of her mother and sister. But whenever she has even a few hours free, she makes a long trip home, stopping on the way to buy five pieces of candy.

“Son la chispa de mi vida,” the spark of my life, she says of her children. Family solidarity is her legacy.

One woman, whose mother died when she was small, found a substitute in a North American neighbor. “She opened my mind to a whole new world,” she says. It also led to a lasting friendship.

In another family, 11 brothers and sisters will meet at their mother’s house for dinner, each bringing part of the meal as well as his or her own family. It’s a custom they’ve shared since the first sibling left home to get married. Being with her children on this day is the best present a mother could get.


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