Pyongyang residents shop for flower bouquets – a popular Mother’s Day gift.
Image: North Korean state television KCTV
This year’s November 16 marked the sixth year of the new Mother’s Day holiday in North Korea, first instituted by Kim Jong Un after he came to power in 2011. The holiday is intended to highlight the role of mothers as the “amazing teachers and guides” of the nation. But the authorities have banned people from attaching any special messages of thanks to bouquets of flowers sent to mothers for the occasion, which is seen as a threat that diminishes the nation’s cult of personality for its leaders.
A source in South Pyongan Province informed Daily NK on November 15 that “when the holiday was first announced, people were not that fussed. But as the regime began pushing propaganda about the holiday in subsequent years, people have started putting more thought into what to buy their mothers in the days leading up to the holiday.”
“As the day became more popular, state-run shops and other merchants began offering various kinds of flower arrangements. But the regime has begun restricting the practice of attaching ribbons signifying a ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ since it encroaches upon the significance of cult-of-personality offerings of flower baskets in front of portraits (of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il),” he added.
“People are starting to say that in North Korea, there are fathers but no mothers, a reflection of discontent towards the patriarchal nature of society,” the source said.
“It is really sad that people have to express thanks to ‘the father’ Kim Jong Un after every little thing he does, but we cannot express thanks to our actual mothers on Mother’s Day.”
But although the regime has banned overt expressions of thanks to mothers, the culture of gift-giving for the holiday is growing.
“Mirrors, socks, and gloves are sold for around 5,000-10,000 KPW. Grown children often give clothes or money, while younger children save their allowance or part-time job earnings to buy some winter gloves for their mother, for instance,” a separate source in South Pyongan Province said.
“Poor children of farmers may prepare breakfast for their mothers or do some extra chores around the house instead of purchasing a gift,” he added. Young students are taught in school that it’s the child’s duty to assist their mother with her tasks on Mother’s Day.
In May of 2012, the standing committee of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly designated November 16 Mother’s Day in the spirit of a speech given by Kim Il Sung on the same day in 1961 acknowledging “motherly duties for educating children.”