After Christmas and Halloween, Mother’s Day is perhaps the most popular holiday on the calendar. It is observed in different forms and on different days throughout the world. In the United States, Canada, Australia, much of western Europe, Japan, China, the Philippines, South Africa, and India, Mother’s Day is always the second Sunday in May. It’s a day set aside to honor and/or remember one’s mother.
“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
—Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day
(Read on to discover the meaning behind this unusual quote about this holiday.)
When did Mother’s Day Begin?
Although the ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, the modern idea of Mother’s Day did not begin until about 175 years ago. Just before the American Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach women how to care for their children properly. After the war, she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” when mothers would meet with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. Another forerunner of Mother’s Day was promoted by the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe, who in 1870 wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” asking mothers to unite in promoting world peace.
It wasn’t until the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, Anna Jarvis, took up the cause of promoting a Mother’s Day specifically to honor mothers that the idea became a national movement. In 1908 Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother’s memory in Grafton, West Virginia. Jarvis had cared for her mother as her mother’s health had declined. The idea for a day set aside to honor mothers quickly caught on until President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official U.S. holiday in 1914.
Mother’s Day quickly spread in popularity, and Jarvis just as quickly saw the rapid commercialization of the holiday as the exploitation of what was intended to be a special day of reverence for one’s mother. Oddly, she spent more of her life trying to eradicate the holiday than she did trying to create it.
Jarvis railed against the florist, card, and candy industries cashing in on Mother’s Day. She called for a boycott against florists who raised the price of the symbol of Mother’s Day – the white carnation – every May. At one point in the 1920s, her threat to sue the New York Mother’s Day Committee, which included the state’s governor and the city’s mayor, over plans for a large Mother’s Day celebration resulted in the event being canceled. When she crashed the American War Mothers convention, Jarvis was charged with disorderly conduct.
It should be noted that in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the origins of the holiday known as “Mothering Sunday” had nothing to do with honoring one’s mother, although nowadays in those countries, Mothering Sunday has become the equivalent of Mother’s Day.
Mothering Sunday is always held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and that should give you a clue as to its genesis as a religious holiday. This Mid-Lent Sunday – or Laetare Sunday – also known as Refreshment Sunday, is a day to take a break from the penitential Lenten fasting. The day’s relation to mothering comes from the Scripture passages read during the Mass as far back as the 8th century. Since the 16th century, it had been a custom for families to attend a church service together in the nearest important church or cathedral – their “Mother” church.
Mother’s Day traditions
In North America, Mother’s Day traditionally involves presenting moms with flowers, cards, and other gifts. Taking mom out to dinner is also very popular, and most restaurants that day will be mobbed with diners. Reservations are a must!
Americans spend upwards of 25 billion dollars each year on the holiday, second only to the combined spending during the Christmas/New Year/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving season. (Mother’s Day even tops Valentine’s Day in spending!). Families also celebrate by giving mothers a day off from activities like cooking or other household chores. Mothers and other women will be honored at worship services on Mother’s Day weekend. The honoring of mothers is not limited to just biological mothers, but anyone who has stepped up to raise children that may or may not be their own.
Flowers are a popular gift for mom as bouquets, and potted blooms account for more than two-thirds of all Mother’s Day gifts. Even though it was the white carnation that originally became popular, red carnations are also considered the official Mother’s Day flower. More importantly, a bouquet of mom’s favorite variety of flowers is the one she most would like to receive. The more than fifteen thousand retail florists in the United States will sell about 2.8 billion stems of cut flowers for Mother’s Day. That’s 69% of all annual flower sales. Most of the flowers are brought in from Columbia, which accounts for 78% of imports.
Another American Mother’s Day tradition is the wearing of flowers. It is said that wearing red or pink flowers shows that one’s mother is still alive. If a person wears a white flower, it means that mother has passed away. Some people place white carnations on the grave of their mother.
Cards and calls
The greeting card industry relies heavily on Mother’s Day sales to survive. Some 113 million cards are sent each year on the holiday. Surely, though, mom’s most memorable and cherished cards are those made by hand by her young children.
Phone calls to mom are also a popular thing to do on Mother’s Day. There is nothing like hearing one’s child’s own voice on the other end of the line, especially if that child lives far away. Likewise, video chats are more popular now than ever.
Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day?
When Anna Jarvis campaigned for a national holiday honoring mothers, she made special note of the correct placement of the possessive apostrophe. She felt strongly that the holiday should be a personal celebration of one’s mother, thus she preferred the singular possessive Mother’s to the plural possessive Mothers’. Sometimes the holiday is spelled without an apostrophe.
Mother’s Day around the World
As you might imagine, Mother’s Day is celebrated around the world in various ways on various days with various customs.
In Thailand, for example, Mother’s Day is always celebrated in August on the birthday of Sirikit, the Queen mother of Thailand. Mother’s Day in Nepal is based on the Bikram Sambat Nepali calendar, which follows the positions of the sun, moon and planets, thus this holiday lands in April or May. Mother’s Day is known in Nepal as Aama ko Mukh Herne Din (“day to see mother’s face”). For those whose mothers have died, people visit the legendary natural pond Mata-Tirtha outside of Kathmandu, where they believe they will see their mother’s face when they peer into the pond.
Most eastern European countries celebrate Mother’s Day on March 8, which is also International Women’s Day. This may be due to Soviet-era influence on the region. Vladimir Lenin, founder of Russia’s Communist Party, declared Woman’s Day an official Soviet holiday in 1917. Today, however, Russia’s official Mother’s Day holiday is the last Sunday in November as established by President Yeltsin in 1998. Since November is a very cold month in Russia, fresh-cut flowers are hard to come by, so Russians resort to the more hardy chrysanthemum as a floral gift for mom.
In Albania, people observe Mother’s Day on March 8, and is generally celebrated in many of the same ways as it would be around the world. One Albanian tradition is to give a simple gift of a mimosa sprig to mom.
In Germany, they celebrate Muttertag in May. However, the German tradition began in an unusual way when it was first celebrated in 1922 as a way to raise the country’s low birth rate. It was officially declared a German holiday by Hitler in 1933 when childbearing women were honored as heroes. Today, Germans honor their mothers similarly to how the rest of Europe does.
In Spain, Mother’s Day takes place on December 8, the Roman Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This celebrates what Christians believe was the day when Mary, the mother of Jesus, became with child through the Holy Spirit of God.
A day honoring moms was introduced in Egypt by journalist Mostafa Amin who convinced Egyptian president Gamal Nasser to create a national Mother’s Day in 1956. Ironically, when Amin was jailed for espionage several years later, the holiday was changed to “Family Day.” Many citizens protested, and the government changed it back to Mother’s Day.
Egypt (and most Arab countries) celebrate Mother’s Day on March 21st (vernal equinox). The date harkens back to the time of the pharaohs when the goddess Isis, a symbol of motherhood, was revered with boats full of flowers floating down the Nile to mark the coming of spring.
In Dubai, Mothers are treated to a special day of dining out, gourmet baking, flowered baskets, and perhaps even a day at a spa! Prestigious department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols offer special pampering packages.
Mother’s Day in Ethiopia comes in the fall, when people gather to sing songs and feast as part of Antrosht, a multi-day celebration honoring motherhood. The children bring ingredients to make a traditional hash. Girls bring butter, cheese, vegetables and spices, and the boys bring a bull or lamb. As the mother prepares the meat hash, she and her daughter(s) put butter on their faces and chests as part of the ritual.
Mother’s Day is not an official public holiday in Kenya, but most people still observe it every second Sunday of May. Like elsewhere, it is typical to make a card for Mom and to write a poem or other special message inside. Many people also do the chores for their mother on Mother’s Day, take her out to dinner, or go on a family picnic. The most common gift ideas for Mum in Kenya include flowers, clothing, jewelry, and handmade gifts like decorations.
Mother’s Day is a unique day in Nigerian churches when everybody puts on their dancing shoes for a musical atmosphere in the worship service. The special moment is when the children are called upon to recite a Mother’s Day poem to their mothers, and each presents them with a gift.
Mother’s Day in Mexico is always celebrated on May 10. Children write cards, deliver flowers, and give gifts to mothers. Children also help with housework, churches have special masses, and music, food, and family gatherings are all traditional ways to honor Mexican mothers.
In Costa Rica, Mother’s Day is a national holiday observed on August 15, which is the Roman Catholic holy day celebrating the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Costa Rican mothers are treated like true royalty, receiving gifts as large as appliances. Some families may even raise a pig to be cooked that day.
Peruvians also honor their mothers in August, and they celebrate Mother Earth, or Pachamama, a goddess revered by Andean indigenous peoples. In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting.
In Bolivia, Dia de la Madre is the most celebrated holiday besides Christmas. Mother’s Day is always May 27, a day that memorializes Bolivian women who resisted the Spanish Army in 1812. Hundreds of women, children and elders were slaughtered. After they gained independence from Spain, Bolivia declared May 27 as the “Day of the heroines of Coronillas” after the place where the women were killed.
Resources for Mother’s Day
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