Mother’s Day in New Zealand: Date and Traditions 2024

Yes, Mother’s Day is a completely invented holiday. Yes, New Zealand totally copied the American version of Mother’s Day. Yes, your mum is going to be annoyed if you forget. 

Is there anything particularly New Zealand about Mother’s Day in New Zealand, or does it just follow the “chocolate and flowers are just fine” models of other countries? Whatever the local traditions might be, does it mean you need to send your mother a gift both on Mother’s Day in New Zealand and in your home country? Just as long as you remember, which was mentioned just before, and will be mentioned again!

Don’t worry—you no doubt have several electronic devices capable of reminding you of the date of Mother’s Day in New Zealand, although you might want to actually write it down somewhere too. Because we all want to avoid the hurt look in your mum’s eyes when you forget (and it’s not like she’ll let you forget anytime soon). 

All you need to know about Mother’s Day in New Zealand

Mother’s Day in New Zealand follows the American lead—right down to the date. This means it’s always the second Sunday in May, which is Sunday, May 12 in 2024. Write that down somewhere, right now. We’ll wait. Made a note? Great.

Of course, New Zealand, having been colonised by the British, adopted many of their traditions. Some, like having the head of state reside 18,000 kilometres away in Buckingham Palace, seem illogical (hello King Charles! We miss your mum!). Weirdly though, New Zealand didn’t adopt the British Mother’s Day tradition, instead following the American lead. The Brits celebrate in March, while the Americans celebrate in May, and New Zealand follows suit.

Many believe Mother’s Day was invented by greeting card companies for profit. It wouldn’t be surprising, would it? However, the tradition has a richer history. It’s believed to go back to 1870 with an American woman named Julia Ward Howe. In that year, she established what she called her “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a pacifist call for peace. 

Howe hoped for  Mother’s Day for Peace to become an annual celebration, but it didn’t gain traction in her lifetime, partly due to its intended date on the second of June—or the start of the summer months in the US. 

Thirty-six years later, another woman named Anna Jarvis campaigned to make Mother’s Day an official annual celebration in the United States. She was ultimately successful, and through her hard work in the early 20th century, Mother’s Day soon (enough) became a popular tradition in the United States, and eventually everywhere else too.

Anna Jarvis, however, became deeply upset at how commercialised Mother’s Day became. This happened in her lifetime, so it didn’t exactly take long for greeting card and flower companies to exploit the holiday for profit. Ironically, Jarvis herself passed away in 1948 at the age of 84, with all her medical bills paid for by those very same companies.

Since New Zealand adopted the American version of Mother’s Day, the traditions here are quite similar to those in the US. The typical celebrations involve giving Mum cards, flowers, and chocolates or taking her out for a nice meal. While these traditional gifts are perfectly acceptable, we’ll be offering some more uniquely New Zealand ideas later in this article. 

Overall, Mother’s Day in New Zealand is a fairly traditional celebration—and it’s a tradition that started for the right reasons.

Mother’s Day in Australia and New Zealand versus other countries

Moving between New Zealand and Australia comes with an advantage when it comes to Mother’s Day: no new traditions to learn! Mother’s Day traditions anyway… sporting traditions, how to pronounce the number “six”—all these things will need to be re-learned.

Both countries celebrate on the second Sunday of May in the American style, with similar present-giving traditions like cards, flowers, and chocolates.

However, these traditional celebrations differ greatly from some unique Mother’s Day practices around the world. In Sweden, children sell fake plants in the weeks leading up to the holiday to raise money for a special Mother’s Day holiday getaway. 

In Japan, children’s artwork depicting their mothers is displayed in shops and home windows during this time—it’s a super-cute thing to see in the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day.

Serbia celebrates Mother’s Day in December, where children playfully tie up their mothers in bed, preventing her from getting up to look after them. Instead, they look after her, with breakfast in bed and other forms of pampering (hopefully followed by untying!).

Best gifts for Mother’s Day

But what to get mum for a quintessentially Kiwi Mother’s Day? And to our American readers—you’ve probably noted that mothers in New Zealand are called mum, and not mom. Sure, chocolates, flowers, alcohol—all good, and are certainly better than sending your mother a text message and thinking it’s enough. But how can you put a New Zealand spin on these traditional Mother’s Day gifts?

Chocolate is always a winner, and if you want to make sure mum gets the best NZ has to offer, look for Whittakers. This Kiwi chocolate maker has been making milk chocolate deliciousness since 1896 and is a bean-to-bar (cacao bean-to-chocolate bar) manufacturer. They control all aspects of their manufacturing process to ensure quality. Get some for your mum, but don’t buy them too ahead of time, since you’ll end up eating them.

Flowers are popular on Mother’s Day for a reason. But this can be a distinctive experience in New Zealand, where you’ll find a few blooms unlike anything else in the world. Look for a florist that sells what are technically fake flowers—woven from NZ flax (harakeke). These ornamental flowers look stunning, won’t wilt or die, and make for a particularly Kiwi Mother’s Day gift.

If your mum likes a drink or two (or five, but no judgement—being a mum is hard work), then wine is welcome on Mother’s Day. It’s not as though you have to put in much effort to put a NZ angle on it either, since the country produces around 329 million litres of wine per year. If your mum is an adventurous drinker, and you like the idea of a homemade gift, try making your beloved mother some kiwifruit wine. The taste is… interesting. 

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