Some of my sharper readers may have noticed Mother’s Day has already passed – but the more thoughtful among you know that “every day is Mother’s Day.” But even as we look forward to Father’s Day, it’s a good time to look back at how the holiday emerged.
In 1868, a woman named Ann Jarvis and famous Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker organized a committee to establish ‘Mother’s Day’ Clubs to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments during a Typhoid epidemic and expand an annual memorial for all mothers when she lost her own mother.
Her mother wanted to establish a holiday but died before she could finish her work; instead, her daughter continued her efforts. Ann campaigned to establish Mother’s Day as a national holiday, and it was officially declared in West Virginia in 1910. Before that, on June 2, 1872, in New York City, a woman named Julia Ward Howe led a ‘Mother’s Day for Peace,’ an anti-war observance in which she appealed to women throughout the world to work for peace. It was widely celebrated by churchgoing, distributions of carnations, (red for living mothers, white for deceased).
It may surprise you to learn, however, that Mother’s Day was once celebrated by the ancient Greeks, who had a lot of respect for mothers and honored them accordingly as life-givers centuries before it was celebrated in the west.
Mother Earth, Gaia, wife of Uranus, was Nature, who gives birth to everything and was worshipped as the ultimate deity. Her honors were passed on to daughter Rhea, wife of Cronus. She was worshipped as the ‘Mother of Gods’ and was celebrated in an annual spring festive to honor her as the goddess of nature and fertility.
Later, the Christian Greeks honored motherhood though the feast of Ypapanti (Feb 2), commemorating the day the Virgin Mary with Joseph took 40-day-old Jesus to the temple to be blessed. But in the 1960s that celebration lost its popularity and the Greeks started honoring their mothers on the second Sunday of May like the rest of the West.
All in all, the celebration of Mother’s Day was established in the 20th Century when women like Ann Jarvis organized it, beginning with the American Women’s movement, an organization to prevent children from being sent to war – wars that men organize.
Today, millions of people across the globe take the day as an opportunity to honor their mothers, thank them for giving them life, raising them, and being their supporters. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating the holiday. Then, in 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives voted twice on a resolution commemorating Mother’s Day, without a dissenting vote. (21 members not voting).
Carnations represent the holiday because it was Ann Jarvis’s mother’s favorite flower, but over time the holiday has been heavily commercialized by advertisers and retailers – it has been criticized by some as a Hallmark Holiday.
Ann Jarvis decried the commercializing of the holiday and protested publically. She was arrested on 1948 for disturbing the peace, and so outraged was she with the way Mother’s Day was being used by retailers that she announced how sorry she was that she had started the day that went so out of control. Becoming a major opponent of how the holiday was commercialized, she spent all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she called an abuse. She died in 1948, but the commercializing of the holiday nevertheless ensured that deserving mothers were being treated well with gifts like a day at a spa, dining out, receiving flowers.
Of course, it generated quite a bit of business for the jewelry business and other industries.
Many professional athletes wear pink clothing accessories on Mother’s Day weekends, while other holidays, like Children’s Day and Temperance Sunday are not celebrated at all.
In Mexico, Dia de las Madres, is celebrated on May 10. Families go to restaurants so that mama won’t have to cook on that one day. In Japan, the holiday began just after WW II by children giving their mothers red carnations. In the United Kingdom it is generally a religious holiday where many churches hand out daffodils to mothers and girls bake Simnel Cake for their mothers. In France, Fete Des Meres, mothers are celebrated with cakes shaped into flowers. Ethiopia, exactly like in India, Durga Puja (the Divine Mother and goddess of all mothers) is a mostly religious holiday. Families get together and sing and dance stories about family heroes. Peruvians celebrate moms on the second Sunday of May, preparing special meals, gifts, and flowers, like in the United States, only, they commemorate at cemeteries where they clean and decorate graves of the beloved mothers past.
But, wherever we are we’re all united by a deep appreciation for the women who nurtured us. (I hope!)