Red carnation with other carnations and leaves in background

Happy Mother's Day! How 7 Asian Countries Celebrate

You probably have your own Mother’s Day traditions, whether it’s showering Mom with flowers, taking her out for a meal, or giving her breakfast in bed. But have you ever wondered about traditions in other countries? Today we take a look at how seven Asian countries fete the mothers in their lives.


Due to its long tradition of Confucian filial piety, some may argue that every day is Mother’s Day in China. But since the 1980s, the country has taken a cue from its Western neighbors and celebrated moms every second Sunday in May, often with bouquets of red carnations.

However, in 2007, Li Hanqiu, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee suggested a different day: the second day of the fourth lunar month, which falls on the birthday of Mencius, an ancient Chinese philosopher whose mother is regarded as the epitome of motherly devotion. How devoted? She appears in a four-character idiom: mèng mǔ sān qiān, or “Mencius’s mother moves three times,” referring to the legend that she relocated three times before finding the perfect environment for her son. 

Li also suggested replacing carnations with the gifting of lilies, which in ancient times was planted by mothers to express their grief when their children left home.

So what’s the verdict? It seems that while Li’s suggested day is the official date, celebrations are still held on the second Sunday of May.


While Taiwan also celebrates the second Sunday in May, their Mother’s Day has a little something extra. In 1999, the government designated the same day as the Buddha’s official birthday. In addition to honoring mamas, the strongly Buddhist population might also celebrate with the Bathing Buddha Festival, in which Buddha statues are cleansed with water, symbolizing care demonstrated toward newborns as well as a fresh start.


Known as Haha no hi, Mother's Day in Japan is also celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It seems to have started around the same time as in the U.S. although during World War II, it was banned along with other Western practices, only gaining popularity again after the war ended.

Today customs include children drawing pictures of their mothers as gifts or to enter into art contests. Not a kid? Red carnations are a common gift as well as items like purses and scarves. You can see Japan’s Mother’s Day in action in this episode of the popular cartoon series, Chibi Maruko-chan.


North and South Korea laud mothers differently. In North Korea, the designated day is November 16, which commemorates a speech the country’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, made in 1961 called "The Duty of Mothers in the Education of Children." Traditions include the giving of clothes and money.

Meanwhile in South Korea, the special day for mothers and fathers is the same: May 8. In the 1930s, the date was reserved just for moms, but in 1973, dads were included too. As in China and Japan, red carnations are often given and whole families get together to celebrate the day.


This South Asian country has a mother-related festival that predates the West’s Mother’s Day: it’s called Matatirtha Aunsi, which translates as “mother pilgrimage fortnight.” The holiday falls on the new moon of Boishakh, the first month of the Nepali calendar, which is April or May on the western calendar. Traditions include the gifting of money, flower necklaces, and fruit, while those who have lost their mothers give an offering of ceremonial grains called Sida Daan, bathe at shrines, and gaze at their reflections in the holy water. It was believed that in doing so, one might see one’s own mother reflected as well.


In Thailand, the day to pamper moms is August 12, the birthday of Sirikit, the queen mother. Customs include kneeling at one’s mother’s feet and thanking her for all she’s done  or in the case of two adorable little boys, at the feet of their devoted dress-wearing dad when their mom couldn’t make it.


In Indonesia, mothers  and all women  are officially honored every December 22. Also known as Women’s Day, it was established in 1953 to coincide with the anniversary of the First Indonesian Women’s Congress, which occurred in 1928 and is thought to be one of the launching points of organized women’s movements throughout the country.

Feeling inspired? Check out our gifts guides and find the perfect something for mom.

[Image: "Red Carnations in a vase" by Matty Ring, CC BY 2.0]

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