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No. 255-257: French Mother’s Day: Repopulation, Advice from Vichy France and Cake

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“L’avenir d’un enfant est l’oeuvre de sa mere.” (The future of a child is the work of his mother.)

                        -Napoleon Bonaparte

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While Mother’s Day in America was first officially celebrated in 1914 after Anna Jarvas campaigned for six long years for a day to honor “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Mother’s Day in France came to be celebrated with slightly more practical and economic intentions behind it: the necessity to repopulate a country distressed by its declining birth rate.

Journ-e-famille-nombreuse

In fact, French Mother’s Day was first instituted with an award attached to it for producing a high number of children. In 1906, a medal of haut mérite maternel (high maternal merit) was awarded to mother’s who had more than nine children. By 1918, some cities in France had established les Journée Nationale des Mères de Familles Nombreuses (National Day for Mother’s of Large Families), and in 1920 it became an official national holiday celebrated on the last Sunday of May. From the 1920s through 1940 the French government continued to support the holiday to help officially promote and reward large family policy and honor those mothers’ with the ability and desire to pop out baby after baby.

During the reign of the Vichy government, in an attempt to win favor with all mothers, the occupational government (while still actively promoting large family policies), extended the holiday to honor all mothers, even those with smaller families. After the war ended, Mother’s Day gradually became less attached to politics and nationalism, and became more of a day to celebrate your fabulous do-it-all mom.

While I was researching the history of French Mother’s Day, I came across this poster from 1941 Vichy France offering advice on how French children should behave on Mother’s Day and throughout the year, according to the field marshal, no less…

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Ta maman a tout fait pour toi, le Maréchal te demande de l’en remercier gentiment.

Invente la surprise la plus belle que tu pourras, celle qui lui fera le plus grand plaisir.

Offre-lui des fleurs que tu auras cueillies…

ou un cadeau que tu auras fabriqué exprès pour elle…

Fais-lui un dessin aussi beau que tu pourras…

Fais un effort en classe pour rapporter de bonnes notes…

Ne te dispute pas avec tes frères et sœurs…

Va faire les commissions sans qu’elle te le demande…

Aide au ménage en souriant…

Apprends une jolie récitation…

Travail-Famille-Patrie.

 

(Your mom has done everything for you, the field marshal asks you to thank her kindly.

Come up with the most beautiful surprise you can that will give her the greatest pleasure…

Offers her flowers that you picked …or a gift you have made especially for her …

Draw her the nicest picture you can …

Make an effort in class to make good grades …

Do not fight with your brothers and sisters …

Run errands without her asking …

Help with the household with a smile…

Learn a beautiful recitation …

(Remember) Work-Family-Homeland)

 

…and finally in France, fête your lovely mother with a gorgeous cake from your kitchen or pâtisserie that looks like a bouquet of flowers or something too delicious to be true.

source: Meeting the French

source: Meeting the French

 Bonne fête des mères!

 

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rachel #

    Love this post Nancy. Great historical perspective on la Fete des Meres.
    Sadly, Benjamin clearly didn’t read that poem! I’m being taken out to dinner shortly – but that is mainly so that my boys don’t have to cook!

    May 25, 2014
    • ;-( feeling a bit neglected myself, although to be fair, Clara is sick, post-IB let down…I did get a second call from Cate after she read the Vichy poster and thought about our first call…still, I wouldn’t give up our jobs as mothers for the world. x

      May 25, 2014
  2. Melinda Lusmore #

    Oh my, those cakes look good. But it would take more than to convince me to have 9 children!

    May 26, 2014
    • No kidding! I do have a couple of French girlfriends (my age) who come from families of 8 to 13. I guess the big family policy was still going strong in the 60s!

      May 26, 2014

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