Have you ever wondered when or why we decided to celebrate our mothers on the second Sunday of May every year? The short answer is that Mother’s Day has been celebrated for centuries across many cultures until it was made an official American holiday by president Woodrow Wilson. However, if you want the longer, more interesting answer, read on.
Celebrations of mothers can be traced back as far as the ancient Greek and Roman cultures who held festivals for the mother goddesses, Rhea and Cybele. These festivals eventually evolved into what is now known as Mothering Sunday in many parts of Europe. Mothering Sunday takes place on the fourth Sunday during Lent and began as a day where families who had married, took jobs, or apprenticeships and moved to different cities and parishes than the ones they were raised in could return to their childhood church or “mother church” to celebrate Lent. Eventually, this turned into a day where children who had left the home to pursue work could return to visit their parents. Historians think that it was the return to the “mother church” that would prompt employers to give laborers the day off in order to visit their mothers. While walking along the paths to church, children would pick wildflowers to give to their mothers when they arrived at church. Thus, the tradition of giving mom flowers for Mother’s Day was born. In England, the traditional flower of Mothering Sunday is the mum.
While we here at Symmetry recognize that all mothers are goddesses in their own right, and should probably be flocked to in order to celebrate and worship them, we thought it would be interesting to delve a little deeper into how we came to celebrate mothers in America.Most sources recognize Anna Jarvis as the “mother” of Mother’s Day. However, Anna’s mother Ann Reeves Jarvis was bringing mothers together to educate and celebrate one another back before the Civil War started. Ann Reeves Jarvis was devastated by the large number of children who perished due to disease and unsanitary conditions. Her solution was to invite her brother, a physician, to teach women how to care for their children and provide a more sanitary environment. Reeves-Jarvis called these classes “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” and dreamed of bringing women together to support the less fortunate. Reeves-Jarvis also asked mothers to team up with former soldiers from both the Confederate and Union sides to promote peace in 1868; she called this “Mother’s Friendship Day.”
Historians also credit abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe with paving the way for a modern Mother’s Day celebration by uniting women to promote peace after both The American Civil War and The French Revolution. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” a call to action for mothers to unite in promoting world peace. Just three years later she would campaign for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every year on June 2nd.
Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905 and that was the year that her daughter Anna decided to celebrate her by sending hundreds of her favorite flowers, white carnations, to the church where her mother worshipped in West Virginia on what would have been her birthday. Anna wished for Mother’s Day to be a day where people honored the sacrifices that mother’s made for their children. In 1908, Anna partnered with John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, to make her dream of a national holiday come true. Together they were able to organize celebrations in West Virginia and Philadelphia. Following the success of these events, Jarvis pushed for more states to begin celebrating mothers. By 1912 a good majority of the United States recognized Mother’s Day as a state holiday and on May 9th 1914, president Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day to be a national holiday celebrated annually on the second Sunday of May.
Sadly, Anna Jarvis, never becoming a mother herself, grew to resent the holiday and even asked for it to be removed from the calendar. She shamed retailers for commercializing the holiday and didn’t take kindly to people attempting to use it as a charitable fundraiser either. Anna felt the true spirit of the holiday that she had intended to honor mothers had become more of a means of profit for retailers than an homage to mothers. Thankfully for mothers everywhere, the country refused to stop celebrating.The official flower of Mother’s Day in America was declared to be the white carnation, the favorite flower of Anna’s mother Ann. In a 1927 interview, Anna revealed why the carnation was such a great representation of a mother, “The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their love never dying.”