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May 10, 2020
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The Real History of Mother’s Day

woman carrying her child on a sandy beach

It’s no wonder Mother’s Day was created—moms are superhuman.  They do the work of twenty people by themselves, for free.

Although it may seem obvious why we celebrate Mother’s Day, there’s the unanswered question of how it came about.

It’s (Not) Greek to Me

Even the gods had moms.  Rhea was the mother to Zeus and the entire first generation of Olympian deities.

The Ancient Greeks recognized Rhea as the goddess of fertility and motherhood; her name even translates to “ease”, as a mother eases and soothes the pain of their child.  The spring festival was held in her honor, in hopes to make the grounds fertile in the upcoming season.

Not Quite Mother’s Day, but Close

In 16th century England, a celebration is known as “Mothering Sunday” was introduced.  The basic concept was to set aside a day dedicated to one thing: visiting and taking care of your mother.

Children would take care of all the household duties and prepare a special dinner in honor of their mother. The eldest child had the responsibility of bringing a “mothering cake” to be shared with the whole family.

Today, Mothering Sunday is practiced primarily by Christians in the United Kingdom and Ireland; it can still be seen across other English-speaking countries.

The Mother of Mother’s Day

The beginning of American Mother’s Day traditions is credited to Ann Jarvis, a peacemaker, and activist. Around the time of the Civil War, 25% of infants died before their first birthday due to epidemics and poor sanitary conditions.  As for Jarvis, only four of her 13 children reached adulthood.

Resolved to help, Jarvis created a community that fostered friendships with other mothers during and after the Civil War. She started Mother’s Day Work Clubs across five different towns in what is now West Virginia.  The Work Clubs sought to teach local women how to care for their children by introducing sanitary practices in hopes of reducing infant mortality. In 1868, she established a committee that celebrated “Mother’s Friendship Day” to promote peace after the Civil War.

The Rise and Fall of Anna Jarvis

Anna Creates Mother’s Day

One of Jarvis’ daughters, Anna, wanted to continue her mother’s legacy. She sought to honor her mother by creating a day of observance, which is the basis of what we now recognize as Mother’s Day.

Despite never becoming a mother herself, she was adamant about wanting the holiday to commemorate her mother.  In 1908, the first Mother’s Day was celebrated in the form of a ceremony held at a church in her mother’s honor.

The original tradition to celebrate the holiday was for children to wear a white carnation as a badge and visit their mother or attend church services. Anna Jarvis created the Mother’s Day International Association and streamlined the day of observance to the second Sunday in May. 

Then in 1914, it happened.  President Woodrow Wilson signed Mother’s Day into law and legitimized the celebration as a nationwide holiday.

Anna Resents Mother’s Day

It didn’t take long for florists and candy makers to commercialize the holiday and use the opportunity to sell flowers, candies, and cards. 

Anna Jarvis started to feel like the holiday was straying from the original intention to have a personal, intimate holiday with one’s mother. So, she began to boycott, stage walkouts and even condemned First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using the day as a method of fundraising.

Anna eventually used all her money in the fight against Mother’s Day and died in 1948 at the age of 84.  She was buried next to her mother.

What Is it All About?

With the rich history that Mother’s Day has, it may be challenging to know how you should be celebrating it.  At the heart of it, the true reason is to honor mothers and to cherish the time spent together.  And of course, above all, to make her feel loved and appreciated.

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