By William Booth
Everybody loves mothers, but Mexicans? Maybe more so.
In the annual celebration of the mother cult, Mexico is especially devout, and every year on May 10 (they don’t move the date around to fall on a Sunday), the entire nation stops what it is doing in the afternoon and eats some serious lunch with Mom.
“For us Mexicans, first, there is the Virgin of Guadalupe, and, second, there is our mother,” said Maxine Woodside, radio host of the popular show “Todo Para La Mujer,” or “All About Women,” and the mother of two boys.
“Mexicans are very attached to family, not like in the United States, where they throw the kids out of the house at age 18,” Woodside said. “Here we see men in their 40s who still live with their mothers, and why not? Their moms still do their laundry.”
A popular Mother’s Day gift? Irons. Also big blenders (not to make margaritas, but soups, sauces, salsas).
Mexican thinker Octavio Paz, in his classic work on the national psyche, “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” spends a lot of pages mulling Mexico’s worship of saintly, suffering, giving mother figures.
In Mexican slang, to insult the mother, to take in vain “la madre,” is to swear with serious intent.
On Thursday May 10 2012, in honor of the maternal, outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard invited Paul McCartney, the Beatle, to play for 200,000 fans at a free concert in the capital’s central square, the Zocalo.
“Hola, D.F.!,” the former mop head said, speaking Spanish to the Distrito Federal, Mexico’s version of D.C., saying how happy he was to be here on this special day. “Estamos muy contentos de estar aqui en el Dia de las Madres!”
Mexicans are, interestingly, Beatle fanatics. There are radio stations that play nothing but Beatles music. But McCartney was wise to have on stage some mariachi players, because crooning mariachis are central to the celebration of mothers here. The musicians pack the restaurants, but another tradition, especially in the countryside, holds that mariachis (and the adoring children) should gather outside mothers’ homes for a serenade.
The most popular song is the sweet, sugary “Las Mananitas”:
“Awaken, my dear, awaken/ and see that the day has dawned/ now the little birds are singing/ and the moon has set.”
Having 80 people over for lunch on this day? Not unusual.
“It is, without a doubt, the most important day for restaurants, our busiest day of the year, when we sell double, triple what we would on a normal day,” said Manuel Gutierrez, president of the national association of restaurateurs, who has worked in and around commercial kitchens since he was a boy.
Gutierrez estimates that for this one day, Mexico puts 200,000 extra waiters to work.
The most popular restaurants are, naturally, family-style, where kids can run around and families eat from long tables piled with kilos of carnitas and barbacoa.
A decent Mother’s Day lunch can easily clock in at five hours. Also common: Mom might knock back a shot or two of tequila — for her heart.
“The mother is an institution in Mexico, and Mexicans are party animals. And as the mother traditionally is the one working for us, cleaning for us, cooking for us, we believe that at least one day a year, we ought to take her out and let someone else do the cooking,” Gutierrez said.
At the flower market in the San Angel barrio, florist Manuel Garcia was up before dawn, making arrangements.
“There is nothing like the Mother’s Day for us, because everybody gives flowers today to their mamas. If you can, you also buy a gift for her, or for the grandma, but flowers? You cannot show up without flowers.”
Garcia explained that the tradition does not end with a mother’s death. “Of course, the children also come to buy flowers for their mothers who have passed away, because they go to visit them at the cemeteries,” which overflow with bouquets.
“Maybe Mexicans don’t have many things, but we have a lot of love for our moms,” he said.
It is also election season in Mexico, and campaign volunteers will flood into town squares to hand out roses to mothers, maybe with a little note reminding them who loves them the most and what political party they represent.
Researcher Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.
By William Booth