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German Mother's Day: Florists to Nazis and back again

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German Mother's Day: Florists to Nazis and back again
A heart that reads. "For my loving mother". Photo: DPA.
15:41 CEST+02:00
American Mother's Day: started by a grieving daughter. British Mother's Day: stemmed from Christian tradition. German Mother's Day: started by some florists looking to sell more flowers.

Mother's Day is celebrated around the world as a way to pay your respects to the woman who gave birth to you, raised you or otherwise got you through those embarrassing, difficult early years.

And Germans like to fuss over their mothers on the day too. This year it falls on Sunday May 8th like in the US (so don't forget that card or phone call!).

But Germany's Muttertag is a bit more questionable in its origins than most other countries: it was started by florists and co-opted by Nazis.

In the 1920s, Germany was experiencing a declining birthrate, which some attributed to the fact that more women were now in the labour force given increased industrialization, the economic downturn after the First World War and urbanization.

It became a time of heated discussion about the role of women in society.

Concerns about the lack of babies made the idea of honouring women for their role as mothers popular, writes author Michelle Mouton in the book From Nurturing the Nation to Purifying the Volk.

Soon support grew for a Mother's Day like one already celebrated in the US and other countries - but most vocal of the concept's supporters may not be surprising: The German Association for Flower Shop Owners.

'Honour the Mother'

The group's leader, Dr. Rudolf Knauer, was a huge advocate of the day, proclaiming that “the inner conflict of our Volk and the loosening of the family” had inspired him to introduce the day at flower stores.

He said it could reunite the politically divided and economically struggling nation.

Knauer created a Committee of Mother's Day and by 1923, Mother's Day was celebrated with flower shop windows displaying signs reminding people to “Honour the Mother”, according to the book Gender History as Society's History by Karin Hausen.

To this day, Mother's Day remains one of the biggest days for business among florists, according to DPA.

When the Nazis came to power, they wanted to encourage women to have more “Aryan offspring”. Mother's Day seemed like the perfect way to do this. So they made it an official public holiday in 1933. 

Adolf Hitler's Reich even started handing out a special Mutterkreuz (Mother's Cross) award to women who showed exceptional merit to the German people, like by having tons of German babies.

A bronze medal was given to women who had at least four children, silver to women with at least six and gold to the mothers with upwards of eight.

One in five forget

Nowadays, Mother's Day falls on the second Sunday of May - and crosses are definitely no longer given out.

Instead the holiday seems to have gone back to its original tradition: getting mum a nice bouquet as Dr. Knauer would have wanted. About one-third of respondents to a 2016 YouGov poll for DPA said they opted for flowers as the perfect present for mommy dearest.

Another 12 percent though thought that simply giving mum the gift of their presence by spending the day with her was enough, and nine percent went for chocolates.

For Father's Day, in contrast, Germans choose to spend the day hiking or biking with booze in "man parties", which is why it's one of the worst days of the year for alcohol-related accidents.

Still, even mums in Germany apparently don't seem to get the proper appreciation they may deserve, with a YouGov poll for DPA showing that roughly one in five adults don't get their mother anything for the special day. 

But however you choose to commemorate the day - or not - at least don't forget to wish someone Alles Liebe zum Muttertag!

With DPA

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