A Mother’s Day history

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On May 12, many different countries around the world, including the Philippines, will celebrate Mother’s Day, an annual occasion honoring one of the most important persons in anyone’s life.

Typically, on that that day, mothers are presented with all manner of gifts, from flowers to chocolates to cards containing messages of love and gratitude. Others are treated to a fancy dinner or a relaxing massage at a spa. There are those who are given a break from the tasks of cooking, cleaning and other household chores.

The origins of the celebration of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient times. For instance, the people of Phrygia, who lived in classical antiquity in what is now Turkey, worshipped the mother goddess Cybele and organized a festival in honor of her.

But the Web site of the cable channel History notes that the modern precedent for what we now know today as Mother’s Day is “Mothering Sunday.”

“Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their ‘mother church’ — the main church in the vicinity of their home — for a special service,” History explains.


This practice became secular, with children giving their mothers flowers and other tokens of appreciation, and less popular, before it merged with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930s and 1940s, the History site says.

In the United States, before the Civil War, a social activist named Ann Reeves Jarvis helped launch “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” that had the goal of teaching women how to properly care for their children. She also organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day” in 1868, during which mothers and former Union and Confederate soldiers came together to promote reconciliation.

Several years later, another social activist, Julia Ward Howe, who was also an author and a suffragist, penned the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” an appeal to women to unite to promote peace. She also campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every second of June.

Ms. Jarvis died in 1905, and after her passing, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children, the History site says. In May of 1908, at a Methodist church in West Virginia, Anna Jarvis held the first official Mother’s Day celebration.

“Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis — who remained unmarried and childless her whole life — resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood,” History says.

Her efforts bore fruit. There were many states, towns and churches in the United States that adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday by 1912. And in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially made Mother’s Day a national holiday that is celebrated every second Sunday of May.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Anna Jarvis promoted the practice of wearing white carnation as a tribute to one’s mother. The custom evolved to include a pink carnation to represent a living mother. The white carnation became a tribute to a deceased mother instead. “Over time the [Mother’s Day] was expanded to include others, such as grandmothers and aunts, who played mothering roles,” an article on the Britannica Web site says.

Ms. Jarvis, however, grew “disgusted” by the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and went so far as to openly condemn the holiday’s transformation and dissuaded people from buying Mother’s Day-related items, such as flowers, cards and candies.

“Jarvis eventually resorted to an open campaign against Mother’s Day profiteers, speaking out against confectioners, florists and even charities. She also launched countless lawsuits against groups that had used the name ‘Mother’s Day,’ eventually spending most of her personal wealth in legal fees. By the time of her death in 1948 Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see it removed from the American calendar,” the History site says.

Despite this sad turn of events, people around the world continue to celebrate Mother’s Day. And however they celebrate it, their intention is the same: make mothers feel special and loved.