A Historical Look at Mother’s Day
This weekend we celebrate mothers. Have you ever thought about the origin of Mother’s Day? Well, the Internet makes that easy to find these days. So, I checked it out. Be sure to read to the end. There is a surprising twist to the Mother’s Day story, and my thoughts after that.
The History of Mother’s Day
The first recorded celebration or holiday of sorts was the Christianizing of a holiday held by the Greeks and Romans honoring their mother goddesses. The Christian holiday was held on the fourth Sunday in Lent and originally honored only Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Later it extended to honoring your own mother. These celebrations were not like the celebration we have today.
There was an ebb and flow to the popularity of that celebration. In parts of Europe, the holiday became known as “Mothering Sunday” and was quite a major celebration. It was still held on the fourth Sunday in Lent. People were encouraged to return to their “mother church” to celebrate their faith. So, it wasn’t really about mom, but to bring you back to the church. Later, it seems, the church encouraged children to honor their mothers with a flower after the service.
Over time, Mothering Sunday became more secularized and less about goddesses, Mary: the mother of Jesus, or the church. It was about mothers. The observances stayed in Europe and the east, though. They didn’t extend to the United States.
The Forerunner of Mother’s Day in the United States
Back in the mid 1800’s a lady named Ann Reeves Jarvis started clubs called Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in Virginia. These were designed so that the experienced mothers could teach the younger mothers how to care for their children. So many children suffered and died. Ann saw the need to educate young mothers on health and sanitary conditions that would provide a healthier environment for developing children. The clubs also raised money to provide needed medicines and even pay the wages of mother’s helpers when the mother was sick with a devastating disease.
During the Civil War, these clubs changed their focus to provide soldiers from both sides food, clothing and medical attention. The clubs were neutral towards the politics, just attending to the needs of the soldiers. Due to their neutrality and focusing on the needs of the men, not which side they were on, after the war the clubs were asked to help promote healing between the people. Ann Reeves Jarvis was often called upon to speak on unity and to help put down the strife that was still between the sides. She had witnessed first-hand the devastation of that split when Virginia split and she now lived in “West Virginia.” As we know, the sides never reconciled., what was one state is still two
When I read that Ann started the clubs to teach the younger women how to raise their children, it reminded me of a Bible verse, which is the reason I started this blog. In Titus 2:4 the older women are told to teach the younger women [about being wives, mothers and a good Christian woman]. So, I searched to see if Ann was a Christian. Both her father and her husband’s father were ministers. Ann and her husband were quite active in their church as well as their community.
Back to the history of Mather’s Day. None of this sounds like the modern Mother’s Day Celebration, does it? Where did our modern celebration originate?
Modern Mother’s Day Celebration in the United States
I had to put in the United States as this is not a worldwide celebration. I didn’t know that!! While most countries do celebrate mothers or women in some way, the dates and celebrations vary all over the world. So, we will talk exclusively about the celebration in the United States.
Mother’s Day in the United States was started by the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, Anna Jarvis. Anna wanted to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children. She remembered that her mother used to express her desire that someday someone must honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to the contributions made by them. Two years after her mother’s death, in 1907, a memorial service was held at the church where her mother taught Sunday School and was supervisor of the primary school department for 25 years, Andrew Methodist Church, in Granville, West Virginia. The following year, on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day was held both at that same church and in Philadelphia, where Anna and her siblings lived.
It is recorded that while Anna did not attend the 1908 celebration at the church in Granville, she did send 500 white carnations to be handed out to the mothers there when they celebrated Mother’s Day. Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia Anna had gained the financial backing of a department store owner, John Wanamaker, and the Philadelphia celebration was held in the store and the community.
Anna continued to promote having an official Mother’s Day. She organized a massive letter writing campaign to the states to designate the 2nd Sunday in May as an official day to honor all mothers and calling it Mother’s Day. She even established the International Mother’s Day Association. By 1912 most states adopted the 2nd Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day” and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution marking the 2nd Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. He encouraged people to honor their mothers on that day and fly the national flag in honor of mothers.
Can I Change my Mind?
What Anna envisioned – a day to recognize the sacrifices of mothers all around the world – quickly became a huge commercial industry. While Anna did promote buying a single carnation and wearing it as a badge to say that you honored your mother, the florists, card companies, and other merchants jumped on the chance to exploit this new holiday. The commercialism hurt Anna deeply. Eventually she campaigned to have Mother’s Day removed as an official holiday and removed from the American calendar altogether.
It is said that Anna spent all her wealth trying to get Mother’s Day removed as an official holiday. To see something she did for her mother totally sidetracked and ruined hurt her that deeply.
The Commercialism of Mother’s Day
As with so many celebrations, Mother’s Day is a time when every merchant is vying for your dollar. A successful ad campaign shows you a need, makes you feel uncomfortable that you don’t have it met, then overcomes all your objections so you buy their product or service. And when it comes to holidays, every company wants to tie in the way you need their products or services.
When I was growing up, even the phone company pressured people to call their moms on Mother’s Day. I remember the commercials that underscored that you show your love by calling mom on Mother’s Day. They subtly pressed the message home that you weren’t being very loving if you didn’t pick up the phone and call mom on Mother’s Day. By the time the commercials came on during Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday night, those ads had ramped up the guilt factor.
Understand that back then long distance phone calls were very expensive. One “long chat” could cost more that our grocery budget for the month. I remember my dad carefully writing down all the points he wanted to cover before he made a call home to keep the call to the time they knew they could afford – which was usually about 5 minutes. That is, if you could even get through.
Today we make a call and most often it goes through. Back 50-60 years ago, that wasn’t true. First, many people had “party lines.” You shared your phone line with other customers to share the cost and the lines. So the first obstacle was to coordinate with the other “parties” on your party line. That didn’t always work out so well. Then the next obstacle was to get a line out of your area and a line into the area you wanted to call without hearing the dreaded “I’m sorry the lines are full, please try your call again later.” Finally there was the rushed call, the kids shouting in “I love you” before the points on the two lists were covered and the all too short call was done.
And clothing… Didn’t we just buy new clothes for Easter? That was a big deal back then. The outfit you wore on Easter most of the time was brand new – all the way down to the underwear. But the clothing manufacturers had a way to make you feel discontent with those clothes and making you feel like you’re not honoring your mother if you don’t wear all new clothes. I wonder how much pressure that put onto mothers and the family budgets when they gave in to that pressure? And if they didn’t give in, how much did that bother them so they didn’t enjoy their day anyway?
I sorta get the food side – especially back when eating out was a rare treat. Whether it’s eating at a restaurant or buying a special dessert so “mom doesn’t have to cook.” I get that, I guess, if mom is making the meals every day. Today we get premade food so much, it’s no longer treat or special occasion. Often mom isn’t cooking every day anymore, anyway. So saying it’s a treat so mom doesn’t have to cook no longer applies.
Should We Even Have Mother’s Day?
Are you with Anna, that Mother’s Day should be taken off the calendar? Or do you think we should keep Mother’s Day? Most of me says let’s get rid of it. But with qualifications and an explanation I’m going to say keep it.
Why I think We NEED Mother’s Day
When I grew up we visited my grandparents who lived close almost every Sunday. I wish it were the big family dinner like you see on Blue Bloods, but most often we went for a couple hours in the afternoon having chips and dip and a little 6-ounce glass of soda. We kids played with our cousins and the adults chatted (kids school and sports activities were not allowed on Sundays in those days). Today we are all so busy and have so many obligations that we don’t have time for that weekly extended family time, be it a few hours in the afternoon or a big family dinner. So, holidays are a reason to get together. For this one reason, I think we need to keep Mother’s Day. It’s really sad to have to have a holiday just so mom can see her kids and have a family day, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.
What Should We Get Rid Of?
I’m with Anna. Get rid of the commercialism. Commercialism takes what should come from the heart and tells you what is acceptable right now, this year.
The Heart of the Matter
I had originally typed that mom doesn’t need clothing, jewelry or perfume, get rid of those commercial items. Then I thought of the loving son who says, I know this is mom’s favorite perfume, I think I’ll get her a bottle. Or the daughter who says, mom, I love you and I know that you sacrificed having anything for yourself while we were growing up, so I want you to have this pretty necklace that I know you will love. So, if it comes from the heart, it’s something mom would want and you have the means to do it, then it’s a good thing.
Believe me when I say that if you’re struggling with your finances and you go into debt to buy things for your mom, most moms will feel guilty with your gift (or at least they should). The heart of the mom is to see her children healthy and happy. To see them struggling and worried and getting sick over bills is not going to sit well with her heart. So, if your heart wants to give something and your finances say no, figure out something else that you can afford or save up to give it to mom another day.
The key here is to know your mom’s heart and yours. Are you giving because it is in your heart (and finances) to do so? Is what you’re giving your mom something she will truly appreciate? Maybe the BEST gift you can give your mom is a little of your undivided attention. Leave your phone in the car, and spend a little time with your mom. Maybe she needs help with a project. Flowers, candy, jewelry, and all that are nice if your mom appreciates them, but if she has a need, those things are only nice things. Fulfilling a need or a true desire, those actions, even when they cost nothing but your time, can be the best way to honor your mom and say “I love you” on Mother’s Day.
And for us as children, I think of the verses that say “Honor thy Father and mother…” It doesn’t just say on Mother’s Day, or their birthday, or some other holiday. It says to honor them “that it may go well with you and you will have a long life.” Honoring mom shouldn’t need a holiday. It should be done every day.
I cannot think about Mother’s Day without thinking about Proverbs 31. That woman loved her family and took care of them well. It is by her love and acts of service towards her family that causes “her children [to] rise up and called her blessed.” The word “blessed” comes from the Hebrew meaning straight, honest, happy, prosperous… Do you feel blessed today? Do you do things that cause your children to rise up and call you blessed? You don’t have to be rich to be either blessed or prosperous.
A Word For Wives on Mother’s Day
And finally, a word for wives. If you are married, don’t expect anything from your husband. Please don’t. He is not your child and you are not his mother. Instead encourage your husband in ways that his mother might feel honored and blessed by him on Mother’s Day and be a blessing to his mother. I know there is much tension between women and their mothers-in-law, but think of it this way: she raised your husband. You chose him, you love him and regardless of how much she may not be like you or your family, without her raising your husband, you wouldn’t be married right now. I know there are some circumstances where the mom didn’t raise her son or he has done much to undo bad training, but even so, help your husband to fulfill his command to honor his mother so that all may go well with him and he can live a long life.
Maybe you’re the mom of little children and the only way you’re going to be celebrated as a mother is if your husband does it with or for the kids. I think about I Cor 13 where it says that love expects nothing in return. If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed. If he does something, be grateful, no matter if it is what you wanted or not. Remember, no expectations = no disappointment. If you are a good example of honoring your mother and helping your husband honor his, when the children are a little older, they will follow your example. They will learn from you. Just be patient.
I Would Love To Hear From You
I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear your heart. What would make you happy on Mother’s Day? How do you celebrate it? In light of what you read, are you going to make any changes to how you view and or celebrate Mother’s Day? Leave a comment below.
As For me…
My daughter is working all day on Mother’s Day and lives in another city. I will be alone. My mom usually remembers who I am these days. Her nursing home is not close, but I think I will drive over there on Sunday after church and spend a little time with her. Maybe I’ll take some easy game or a puzzle to do with her to while away the afternoon.
Be blessed, ladies. And have a happy day.