Across the world, Catholic and Christian societies venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only as the mother of Jesus but also as a mother ﬁgure for all children of God. This adoration has endured through the centuries and is the reason for the importance of mothers in society
where they have become such an integral and beloved ﬁgure in the family.
This month Italians will celebrate mothers and mother ﬁgures as many do across the globe. The history of Mother’s Day in Italy dates to the 10th century when it was celebrated on March 25 as a religious festival honoring the Virgin Mary. In this century, the very ﬁrst “Mother’s Day” was introduced by the Fascist regime in 1933 as la Giornata della madre e del bambino (the day of the mother and child.) The ﬁrst ofﬁcial Mother’s Day was in May 1957, about 50 years after it was founded in the United States. The tradition was started by a parish priest in Assisi in Umbria, and it was celebrated by people in the region with great enthusiasm. The day was so successful that, the following year, the holiday was adopted across Italy’s 20 regions.
Many mothers in Italy embrace the role of creating a loving, stable home for their children, and are an important part of maintaining beloved traditions that are centered around culture, religion, and food. Mothers are still regarded as the cornerstone of the family and as central ﬁgures of the communities where they live. But like many women around the world, the role of an Italian mother has changed with the times. During the 1960s and 1970s there was a great shift in the culture of Italy, not just ﬁnancially but also mentally. A law to allow divorce took effect in the 1970s and later laws passed reformed family law and the abortion law. These changes have led to a shift in family demographics as women are now having fewer children. The average Italian family today is made up of one to two children.
Today’s Italian mothers still embrace the concept of family and lovingly nurture their children, but many have fulﬁlling careers or are working outside the home to support their families. Husbands and partners of younger generations are also taking on more responsibility in caring for the family.
Some mothers may be raising children who are not theirs biologically. If they are living near their grandchildren, this role may fall to a grandmother. In smaller towns, where it is not uncommon for extended families to live in close proximity, it is not uncommon to see grandmothers or other female relatives or friends picking up children from school and watching over them until their mothers come home from work. In larger cities, working moms, if there is no close family nearby, will depend on their spouse or a network of close friends who will support one another.
While more mothers may be in the work force, and more men are involved with their children and family activities and chores, the role of providing love, support, advice, and encouragement is still a central part of a woman’s life. Italian mothers are known to be ﬁercely protective of their children, especially with their sons. Statistics show young men tend to live at home much longer than in other countries while daughters will often move out by their early 20s.
Sons who continue to live at home past their 20s may ﬁ nd themselves labeled as mammoni. The term, which translates to “mamma’s boy” in English, is given to single Italian men who live at home with their mothers sometimes into their 40s and 50s. In some situations this might happen due to economic issues or when a son is taking care of an ailing parent but more often it is a choice for men who want the freedom to do what they want but like that their mothers still feed them and take care of household management. Some church ofﬁcials have spoken out about this lifestyle which they believe is a threat to the institution of marriage in Italy.
The trend of young adult men (and also young women) who continue to live at home is often driven by economics, especially in the southern part of Italy where job prospects are not as abundant as they are in the north. In this case there is much more familial support to make sure adult sons (and also daughters who have not married) have a place to live which they often cannot afford on their own. Many use this opportunity to further their studies to give them better employment options. It would be highly unlikely that an Italian mother would not support their children so they can establish themselves and start their own family or become self-sufficient.
Throughout history mothers have been lauded through song, art and poetry. One of the best-known songs in recent decades is “Mamma,” composed in 1940 by Cesare Andrea Bixio with Italian lyrics by Bixio Cherubini under the title “Mamma son tanto felice.” Connie Francis’ recording of “Mamma” popularized this song in this the U.S. and it is considered a classic. Another well-known song is “Senza mamma e nnammurata” (With No-one) which was written in the United States for the play of the same name in the early 1900s. It played to immigrant audiences in major American Italian enclaves and was featured in a scene from “The Godfather 2.” The song was recorded in this country by numerous Italian American recording artists.
Of course, the Virgin Mary has been one of the most famous mothers depicted in Italian art for centuries. Italian and non-Italian artists have portrayed her in both art and sculpture. One of Italy’s greatest artists, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) painted her in 1483 as “Madonna of the Magniﬁca” which is on display in the Ufﬁ zi galleries in Florence, Italy. Michelangelo’s sculpture of “Mother and Child” in white marble is on display at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence Italy. These two pieces and hundreds of others portray the true essence and beauty of motherhood.
While more children today have moved away from their family home, largely for economic reasons, they still maintain a close relationship with their mother. Many will travel back to their hometowns on Mother’s Day to spend time with the most central ﬁgure of their early life. Flowers or candy are often given to mothers on this day, but it is not as common to give lavish gifts as might be done here in the U.S. The important thing is to spend time with their mother (or mother ﬁgure), which could be a home-cooked meal, a picnic or possibly going to a restaurant. In most cases, but not all, mothers will be told they are to completely enjoy their day and are not allowed to cook or clean. If children are unable to travel home, they will make sure to call la mamma to wish her the best and may send ﬂowers in advance.
In fact Italy’s phone companies report their highest volume of calls around Mother’s Day, when children phone to tell their mothers how much they love and appreciate them. Younger children will often write poems in school which they will give to their mothers on her special day.
Today, in addition to individual family celebrations, many Italian cities host special events on Mother’s Day, including parades and concerts. It is also a time to focus on the importance of motherhood and a mother’s role in an evolving society.