Yes, it is upon us, Mother’s Day. If you haven’t ordered a beautiful bouquet for that most wonderful lady in your life, better hurry. Unlike many of the non-religious holidays that we celebrate throughout the year, this one is filled with a rich history and beautiful customs, not the least of which is honoring a living mom with a or wearing a white one if she was deceased. More about that later.
Always celebrated on the second Sunday in May, it is, indeed, a day when children of all ages give their mom’s gifts. While flowers are most often used, books, jewelry, candy and in the 21st century CDs and DVDs are the primary gifts. Alas, greeting card sales and telephone calls have decreased significantly in recent years, thanks to the internet and other electronic greetings.
Mother’s Day, as we know and celebrate it is not new. There are records of days honoring mothers in ancient Greece; though the mother being honored then was Rhea, the mother of the gods. In the 16th century there was a day set aside each year called “Mothering Sunday,” the name of which persists today in the British Isles; it was held on the 4th Sunday of Lent. On that day, servants, who generally lived with their employers and their families, were encouraged to return home and honor their mothers. They were often encouraged to bring along a cake to celebrate the occasion.
So, now let us look at our own Mother’s Day. The first proclamation for the celebration came from Julia Ward Howe, some 10 years after she wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. A major effort across the eastern states started to take hold. It was funded by Howe herself, but died out after about 10 years when she was no longer able to provide money.
Then, in 1907 Anna Jarvis of West Virginia and then Philadelphia began a campaign to establish a National Mother’s Day. The first celebration was held in her Mother’s Church in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908. She quit work and devoted all her energies to the establishment of the holiday. Jarvis endlessly solicited support from businessmen and politicians to get her day recognized She continued her campaign until 1914 President Woodrow Wilson, proclaimed that a “Mothers’ Day will be held across our nation on the second Sunday of May, each year.” Thus, were sown the seeds of what we celebrate this weekend. Many countries, Denmark, Italy and Belgium are among those who celebrate on the same day.
After spending so many years trying to establish Mothers Day as a national holiday, Ms. Jarvis spent her later years and all her income fighting the commercialization of that day. She felt that it should have remained a day for honoring mothers with a pink carnation if she was alive or white if she was deceased. No other flowers. No other gifts. Anna Jarvis died in 1948, blind, poor and childless. Ironically, she never new that her funeral was paid for by a then popular industry magazine, the Florists’ Exchange.
Just a quick note. Last evening I saw a friend at a meeting and he commented about my Magnolia column a couple of weeks ago and he told me that I left out just one important fact. I neglected to mention the mess that they make when the flowers drop. They sure do. But then, just think about how colorful the compost pile will look for a few days.