News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 9, 2010

History of Mother’s Day brings some surprises

Connie Wieck
Special to the Tribune-Star

Guangxi Province, Longzhou, China — How exactly did Mother’s Day come about? This history of the day brings with it some surprising findings.  

The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece, honoring Rhea, the Mother of the Gods.

Early Christians celebrated the festival in honor of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

In England in the 1600s, the celebration included all mothers. This was called “Mothering Sunday.” Besides attending church, children returned home from the cities with gifts, flowers and special Mothering Day cakes that were important parts of the celebration.

Mother’s Day in the United States dates back to 1872. It began with Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Howe was not advocating a day for mothers but rather a day for peace. She organized women to hold Mother’s Day peace meetings every year in the city of Boston.

It wasn’t until later that Mother’s Day took on the current meaning we have today. In 1907, Anna Jarvis, a school teacher from Philadelphia, began encouraging people to establish a national Mother’s Day. Jarvis asked her mother’s church to celebrate Mother’s Day on the anniversary of her mother’s death, which was the second Sunday of May. The next year, word went around and Mother’s Day was celebrated all over the city of Philadelphia.

Soon, Jarvis and her supporters began writing to religious leaders, businessmen and politicians to ask for a national Mother’s Day. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state in America. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it official by proclaiming Mother’s Day a national holiday that would be observed each year on the second Sunday of May. 

Other nations followed suit. Today, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium also celebrate Mother’s Day on the same day as America. 

Interestingly enough, Jarvis became soured by the commercialism of the flourishing new holiday and fought vehemently her whole life to dissolve it. She and her sister, Ellsinore, spent their entire family inheritance campaigning against the day she had so fervently advocated before. 

As she put it: “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. And candy! You take a box to Mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”

She died a bitter woman, unmarried, childless and penniless.

Any truth to Jarvis’ accusations of the day being more of a curse than a blessing for moms everywhere?

Well, according to statistics, Mother’s Day is now one of the most commercially successful U.S. occasions. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother’s Day is the most popular day of the year to dine out in America. IBIS World, a publisher for business research, reports that for Mother’s Day, Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 billion on pampering gifts (manicure and spa treatments, for example) and another $68 million on greeting cards. And let’s not forget the trinkets women love to wear. In 2008, Mother’s Day generated 7.8 percent of the U.S. jewelry industry’s annual revenue.  

I suppose some might agree with Anna that the day is somewhat meaningless and overblown. But in my opinion, those we should really be asking are the recipients of all those gifts and other thoughtful reminders.

So what say you, mothers? Do you feel unloved, unappreciated and exploited? Any protests going on at your local Walmart, boycotts of area restaurants or no-spending strikes at nearby malls? 

Any demands that Mother’s Day be rescinded?

Nope. Didn’t think so.

Enjoy your day, Moms! You deserve it.