What’s Mother’s Day Like In Guatemala?

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day!

What exactly is Guatemalan Mother’s Day or El Día de Las Madres? It’s what you might expect. It’s a day where the nation of Guatemala takes 24 hours to stop and acknowledge the contribution that mothers have had in their lives and to show them a little appreciation for their continual sacrifices.

Thanks to the Guatemalan Congress of 1968, May 10th was decreed Mother’s Day and has been celebrated on the same day every year since. Decree 1794 states that “‘The mother is the foundation of the family and from her come the morals and spiritual norms that extend to all civilized people’. The decree also explained that the purpose of Mother’s Day was to recognize the importance of mothers, ‘exalting her before the whole Republic, in order to strengthen in the conscience of Guatemalans her high spiritual significance…as a source of perpetual inspiration.”

Everything that I’ve seen in my time here in Guatemala, speaks to that as being true. The mother IS the center of the family unit. She usually stays at home with the kids and raises them, offers them comfort when their sad, sees to it that they do their homework, cooks, cleans, and every other motherly chore imaginable.

Festivities actually begin a few days before May 10.  For example, all the mobile companies offer clients (pay as you go) deals on minutes and free texts to mothers; stores stock up on gifts and layout their promotional material; schools, especially younger grade levels, put on elaborate presentations during the day; and large families plan to meet up all over the country to celebrate the motherly figures in their life.

Fortunately, on their special day, mothers don’t have to show up to work (and still get paid), while their male co-workers and childless female peers hold down the fort and keep businesses operating.  Even before the sun rises, it’s customary for families to wake up super early and walk the streets behind cars blasting “Waltz para mi madre (Waltz for my mother)” and popping firecrackers.  Not too long afterwards, many families attend mass with their mother around 8 a.m. and later, around brunch or lunch, families patron their favorite restaurants. After all, it is a day for the mothers, meaning they don’t have to cook, and the males don’t know how, so it’s best if they eat out! And if mothers just so happen to visit the grocery store after lunch, it’s not unusual to leave with free flowers and balloons.

As an alternative, for those mothers who have past away, families continue to honor them by visiting their graves, laying fresh flowers, and saying prayers. Childless women take this opportunity to spend time with their own mother or the motherly figure in their lives. Regardless of where they are in life, everyone shares a deep appreciation and thankfulness for the women who have sacrificed so much for them.

To some, this might seem a bit excessive, but I offer a different conclusion; one that pays homage to women everywhere that has had to, and to some extent still has to, endure the many injustices of life in a third world country and machismo society.

Sadly only about 50% of Guatemalan women can actually afford to take time to enjoy the day however. The rest are too busy worrying about poverty, malnutrition, and domestic abuse to fully appreciate their own holiday.  Moreover, most mothers, especially in the lower economic segments, have on average 5-6 children that they are trying to support, all while living on less than $2.00 per day.

Perhaps in the U.S., as a society, we almost take this day for granted, or at least don’t do enough to pamper the women dearest to us. At times, Mother’s Day seems merely as a commercial excuse for Wal-Mart to move cards, balloons, and chocolate merchandise. Maybe a country like Guatemala can teach us that our mothers deserve more. More attention. More love. More uninterrupted time with the ones they love. And more “Thank You’s” for the continual sacrifices and perpetual inspiration.

p.s. I love you Mom!

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