Mother's Day Ayla Eldek, center, is embraced by her daughters Meliha, 16, left, and Gulsu, 13, at their home in North Toledo. Originally from Turkey, the family says they celebrate Mother's Day with gestures of love and small gifts.
Americans take for granted that Mother’s Day falls on the second Sunday in May. But what about immigrants from other nations? How do they regard our annual collision of maternal reverence and marketing savvy?
Growing up in St. Kitts in the West Indies, Edris Francis had never heard of Mother’s Day. She knew about Christmas and Easter, but Thanksgiving, Valentine’s, and many of the other days Americans celebrate were foreign to her until she moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 1988.
“We didn’t do Mother’s Day in St. Kitts. We didn’t know anything about Mother’s Day,” said Ms. Francis, a manager at McDonald’s at Dorr Street and Collingwood Boulevard. Her husband, Selwyn Francis, and son, Drissel Francis, also work at a McDonald’s. The elder Mr. Francis is a maintenance employee and the younger trains new hires.
Thirteen years ago, the rest of the family moved to the United States where the Francis’ daughter, Maylin Wattley, was already in school. A graduate of Wilberforce University and the University of Toledo, Ms. Wattley’s children — daughter Sapphire Holston, 12, and son Malachi Wattley, 11 — are close to their grandparents.
The family credits the Internet for Mother’s Day celebrations in St. Kitts now. Ms. Wattley, a daycare center and dress shop owner who also tutors children and has written a children’s book and a book of poetry, said flowers are even sold on street corners, just as they are in this country.
While a mid-May Mother’s Day has been officially recognized in this country since 1915, some nations honor mothers on other dates.
“We celebrate it March 21 because it’s the first day of spring,” said Fadyh Elbiram, the mother of Sadeen, 6, and infant daughter, Natalie Abdelrahaman. “I was shocked [that] the date is different. I thought it was March 21 in the whole world.”
Ms. Elbiram, who last May graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Bowling Green State University, came to the United States from Jordan in 2004 as a bride. Her husband, Bassam Abdelrahaman, is in the restaurant business. The Kuwait native’s family still lives in Jordan.
When she was growing up, she and her siblings bought gifts for their mother. She still calls her mother in Jordan on March 21, and also in May. The couple also buy gifts for her mother-in-law who also lives here.
“We don’t do anything special like go out or cook in. We just have cake and buy gifts,” said Ms. Elbiram, who also attributes the growing interest for Mother’s Day in Jordan to technology.
“I would say now with the Internet you can see how other countries celebrate Mother’s Day,” she said. Older generations don’t acknowledge it because it is not a religious holiday, she said, but everyone else seems to enjoy it. “Now you see balloons, cakes — they really do it up now.”
And though she was stunned by the huge celebrations for moms in the United States when she first arrived, Ms. Elbiram agrees that the all-out approach is not overkill. After all, “Mothers need to be appreciated,” she said.
Turkey-native Ayla Eldek revels in the American version of Mother’s Day.
“I’m happy to be a mother. My daughters always wake me up early and prepare breakfast for me on Mother’s Day,” she said of Meliha, 16, and Gulsu, 13. “It’s amazing. They kiss me and it’s wonderful. They do everything — toast, omelette.”
Born in Istanbul, Ms. Eldek said, “In our culture, the mother is very important in the family. We celebrate Mother’s Day every year. I picked flowers when I was very little to give to my mother. When I grew up, I tried to save my money and buy something I thought would make her happy. There are many ways to make them happy and special, just like in the United States.”
Ms Eldek and her husband, Halil, are physical education teachers at Horizon Science Academies. When they immigrated to the United States five years ago, they first settled in Texas before moving to Toledo last July.
She said there’s a heart-warming custom in Turkey: The children kiss their mother’s hand, then they place the mother’s hand on their own forehead. Ms. Eldek said the gesture means the mother is always held in high esteem and that she is always above the child. She said it also demonstrates that, “I admire you and I respect you and you are very important and special.”
Turkish kitchens are much like American kitchens in that they are “The most important place in the home,” Ms. Eldek said. Mother’s Day dinners are described as “very valuable,” adding that they are replete with “many different desserts. All Turkish women have to know how to cook.”
In one way or another, mothers have often been highly regarded throughout history. Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom has evolved from families returning to their home church to celebrating mothers, usually during the Lenten season.
How did America’s version of Mother’s Day come to be? In 1872, a special day for mothers was suggested by Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of Republic. Though others were involved in the campaign for the day, World Book Encyclopedia gives Anna Jarvis credit for founding the holiday in 1912. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution recommending the federal government observe Mother’s Day, which has been done annually since 1915.
Describing her mother as her “backbone and strength,” Ms. Wattley said that when the family gathers for dinner, relatives give gifts and explain why they give thanks for their mothers. “It’s about giving and not receiving. The family still does this, though we have a smaller group now.”
While many moms relax on that day, Ms. Francis is not one of them. She helps her husband cook, as do Sapphire and Malachi. Sapphire’s specialty dishes are jerk chicken, jerk fish, and curry shrimp, and Malachi’s is spaghetti and meatballs.
“They are the apple of my eye,” Ms. Francis said of her grandchildren.
And almost certainly she is the apple of theirs.
Contact Rose Russell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.
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