Mother's Day in Mexico is always on May 10 in Mexico – no matter what day of the week that is. While restaurants are packed for the mid-afternoon meal and florists sell every arrangement they can design, nothing says “I Love You” or “Thank You Mom” like the serenada de las Madres (serenade for the mothers) featuring “Las Mañanitas”.
For Mother's Day, the music begins early, very early—well actually this popular remembrance for mom keeps local musicians criss-crossing the streets of Mexico’s villages all through the night of May 9. and lasts all day long. (See mariachis surprise a family of women in this UTube video.)
"We have to start very early, it takes so much music to show how much we love our madres," said my grinning friend Miguel.
In reality the musicians begin sometime not long after midnight on the night before Mother's Day, making their rounds to first one house and another awakening mothers with the familiar strains of “Las Mañanitas” Mexico’s lovely all-purpose song for serenades, birthdays, saints day and other celebrations.
“How beautiful is the morning
On which I come to greet you
We all come with delight
And pleasure to salute you.
These are the sweet morning songs
That King David used to sing
To all the pretty maidens,
We now sing them for you.”
Do They Only Know One Song?
One year I was having lunch with friends in mid-May, when the newcomers in the group began complaining about hearing bands in their neighborhood all night long. After a few questions, we established that the music they'd heard had been late on May 9, the night before Mother's Day. They liked knowing that the bands were playing for the mothers in the neighborhood. We were about to explain that serenades always begin with "Las Mañanitas" when Cathy asked, "But why do all the bands only know one song?"
Families pool resources to hire the best band possible to play a serenade for mamá, even when that means that the only time the band can come is sometime between three and four in the morning or really isn’t that good at all. Quality makes little difference – it’s better to have some music than no music at all!
(Want proof of that theory? – here is a pair of a delightful videos of groups of men and boys saluting the women in lives. The first video appears to take place during a program for the moms, perhaps in a church. The next was filmed in Southern California and while the guys need copies of the song’s words, their enthusiasm and prowess builds as they sing – looks like they’ve been cooking, too. )
The families that can't afford to hire even a has-been trio for their mother's serenade do the next best thing. They bring out the old guitar and play and sing the song themselves, the way their mom loves it best, in their own sweet harmony. Or…they carefully align a CD in the boom box or turn up the volume on the cell phone so that they can press "play" just as mom snaps on the kitchen light to prepare the family's breakfast.
“I wish I could be a sunbeam
To shine in through your window
And say to you, “Good Morning, Happy day”
While you were still snuggled in your bed.
Some years I've been roused from sleep a dozen times or more during the night of May 9th, as various musical groups with varying levels of expertise, talent, and inebriation visited houses in my neighborhood to begin Mother's Day with music.
The Origin of this Custom?
I have a nagging suspicion that this romantic way to celebrate Mother’s Day may have had a more practical origin. Can’t you just see it? Years and years ago, the bartender was trying to get the last patrons out of the cantina at closing time on the night before Mother's Day. Just as José staggered through the door, he said to his compadres Chuy, Pepe and Juan, “Ay! I didn’t remember to buy anything for my wonderful wife for Mother’s Day, and now I've spent all but a bit of my money on tequila.”
Chuy, Pepe and Juan commiserate, noting that without gifts for their wives and mothers, they have just hours until they are in big trouble. José saved the day (and his happy home) with a brilliant idea—they hired the cantina's trio to go with them to serenade each of their wives, just like when they were courting. I don't know that this is the way it happened, but I’m willing to bet that mothers didn’t establish a tradition that would wake them up at 2, 3, or 4 in the morning for a bit of romantic music, as sweet, wonderful, and considerate as it may be.
(Javier Solis is one of Mexico’s old-time favorites – you’ll love his mellow voice in his version of the country’s favorite song.)
Singing to the Mother of Mexico
A lovely Mother’s Day custom in Mexico includes special Masses all across the country to honor Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. The Virgin Mary appeared as a young dark-skinned woman glowing with light near Mexico City in 1531 and said, “Would I be here if I were not your mother?” Since that day, Mexicans love two mothers. Their birth mother is shared with their brothers; the other mother is shared with God, all their countrymen and the world.
“For the moon I’d give a peso
For the sun, I’d give two
For my mother, and the Virgin
My life and my heart!
“Of the stars from the heavens
I should like to take down two—
One with which to greet you
And another to say good-bye.”