Young Henry & Lucille

La festa della mamma

Mother's Day

Every year as the dark, cold winter gave way to the bright rebirth of Spring, the ancient Romans paid tribute to their gods of fertility. One holiday, Matronalia, was dedicated to Juno, the queen of the gods, and children gave gifts to their mothers on this day.

Traditionally la festa della mamma in Italy fell on May 8. The current practice of celebrating Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May (la seconda domenica di maggio) started in 1957. La mamma italiana is part of her family’s life every day of the year–as was mine (above), even though she was 100 percent Polish.

Men may hold the highest political offices, but the person at the helm of the family—the strongest Italian institution—is mamma. Grown men called mammoni (big mama’s boys) remain at home well into their thirties (and sometimes beyond). Mammismo (“momism”), some contend, stems from a son’s belief that nothing could ever compare with amore materno (motherly love).

Mothers inspired the most common—and versatile –expression in Italian: Mamma mia! You can translate it as “My God!”, “How great!”, “Oh no!”, “Incredible!” and dozens of other ways—depending on context and inflection. A wide range of human emotions–from surprise to shock, delight to disbelief, joy to horror–can be conveyed in these two words.

To help children of all ages express their love for mamma, Italian websites post “auguri” (best wishes) for la festa della mamma. Here are some examples:

*”Le rose sono rosse, le viole sono blu, e tu sei la mamma migliore di quaggiù.” (Roses are red, violets are blue, and the best mom down here is you.)

*”Mamma, sei la mia vita, sei come un raggio di sole che al mattino mi sveglia con felicità e come la dolce luce di una stella, che la sera accompagna il mio sonno.” (Mom, you are my life. You are like a ray of sun that awakens me with happiness in the morning and like the sweet light of a star that accompanies my sleep in the evening.)

*”Mamma, sei la cosa più bella e dolce che la vita mi potesse donare. Ti voglio bene!” (Mom, you are the most beautiful and sweetest thing that life could give me. I love you!)

Words and Expressions

Come mamma l’ha fatto — literally as his mother made him: completely naked, in his birthday suit

Casa madre — mother or head office

Scena madre — main scene, the most dramatic and revealing scene in a movie or play

Madre in affitto — surrogate mother

Le gioie della maternità — the joys of motherhood

Neomamma -– new mom

La mamma dei cretini è sempre incinta –-  literally, the mother of cretins is always pregnant; in other words, stupidity breeds stupidity

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

Click below for a famous tribute to la mamma italiana