You buy chocolates or a card for Mom on Mother’s Day every year, but do you know about how today’s maternal holiday actually began?
Every year around this time people across the country step into the card aisle or pop into the local florist to find just the right arrangement to say “I love you” to one very special woman. I’ve always taken part in Mother’s Day as a daughter thinking up some way to celebrate Mom. But this year, with my first little one due to make an appearance here pretty soon, I started wondering about the history of this holiday (and no — for the skeptics among us — it did not originate with Hallmark).
According to History.com, Mother’s Day is actually celebrated in countries across the world, though not every country celebrates it on the same day. Called “Mothering Sunday” in England during the Middle Ages, the holiday used to be observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent leading up to Easter. In the Middle Ages, people commonly worked as servants of some kind in the households of others, so Mothering Sunday gave them a chance to take a day off to go home and visit their own families.
While the true origins of Mother’s Day can be traced back to ancient Greece, where people would celebrate the mother of the gods, the modern American holiday didn’t really begin until 1907. On May 12 of that year, Philadelphia native Anna Jarvis put on a memorial service at the church of her late mother in West Virginia, honoring the mothers in the congregation with white carnations.
That act sparked a movement that had people across the country observing the holiday within five years. Jarvis’ own mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, had been a social activist who worked tirelessly during the Civil War to ensure health and safety for workers, and she also did a good bit to unite mothers around the ideas of pacifism and social justice.
After holding the memorial service for her mother, Jarvis set out to make Mother’s Day an official holiday. She saw her hard work pay off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday, but by 1920, Jarvis was so enraged by how commercialized the holiday had become that she began trying to abolish it. She and her sister went to great lengths and are said to have spent a good deal of their inheritance fighting and campaigning against what the holiday had evolved into.
What made her so angry about the Americanized Mother’s Day? Interestingly enough it was the fact that so many people were sending printed cards to their mothers.
While I have to admit I did get my mom a store-bought card this year, I’m thinking she won’t mind, especially as we think of creative ways to celebrate her and thank her for all she does. Happy Mother’s Day to mamas everywhere!