How Mother’s Day was born
May 29, 2013
It’s downright unAmerican not to love your mother. Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet, for you old enough to remember the motto. Even rough-tough professional football players mug for the TV camera, mouthing, “Hi, Mom!” (Why never, “Hi, Pop?” Unfair.) So we have a day to honor our mothers each year, the second Sunday in May, when we sell more flowers and cards than any other season. And, if we are not able to take our mothers to dinner, we tie up phone lines and bandwidth wishing our mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Right? Well, if you live in the United States or (at my last count) 82 other nations in the world, that is true. Sort of. That day may go under a different name, such as International Women’s Day if you’re in certain communist or former communist countries.
Actually, International Women’s Day is technically May 8, because that is the day in 1917 that women marched in its observation in Czarist Russia and helped bring about the Russian Revolution when the Czar’s troops refused orders to fire on the women. But that’s another story, because International Women’s Day (started in 1909 to honor women in the socialist movement) really says nothing about mothers (thereby being more PC) and became more a way communist countries could give in to celebrating a popular capitalistic holiday under a different name.
Getting back to Mother’s Day, it’s been around a long time, right? That depends on what you term “a long time.” Anna Jarvis (no relation to Howard) started observing a day for mothers in 1908 with programs at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, PA, and Wanamaker Store Auditorium in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia it was reported that 15,000 people showed up for only 5,000 seats! After a vigorous and personally costly campaign, Anna got Mother’s Day recognized by Congress in 1914 as a national holiday, to be held on the second Sunday in May. I am not sure of the vote count, but I pity the poor Congressman who would have dared vote against mothers. Although Anna was soon appalled at the commercialization of her beloved holiday, it is the American way. I would imagine the hoopla next year when it hits its centennial observation will make all previous ones pale in comparison. On a non-commercial note, church attendance is the third highest for the year!
on Mother’s Day, just behind Easter and Christmas Eve. “Okay, Ma, I’ll go to church with ya!”
Well, that explains how it all got started in the U. S. of A., but what about the rest of the world? Some type of observance is almost worldwide, whether it is tied to the American Mother’s Day, International Women’s Day, or a day associated with the Virgin Mary, as in many Roman Catholic countries. There is one observance that deserves special mention, if only because of its uniqueness and because its British roots tie it to my book Christmas Cracker. That is Mothering Sunday. It is on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which means the date varies from year to year It is centuries old, probably coming from when people returned to the church in their hometown (their “mother” church) on a particular Sunday. It became a time when you went there with your mother, a rare occasion when industrialization made time off work a luxury. Or perhaps it has to do with that Sunday’s Lesson from the Epistle to the Galatians in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer that declares, “Jeru!
salem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all.” Whatever the case, it was after Anna’s successful campaign to make it an American national holiday that Constance Adelaide Smith was inspired to push for mothers to be recognized in the UK and Mothering Sunday became a British version of Mother’s Day. Now Mothering Sunday is often called Mother’s Day in the UK.
When I lived on the Isle of Man, I had to plan ahead to send a card to my mother in America. Mother’s Day cards were out in March, not in May, and had to be purchased then. Not only that, although most cards referred to Mother’s Day, they also were to “Mum,” the affectionate British term for mother. I started choosing the best card, whether it be to “Mum” or “Mother.” After all, it’s the sentiment, not the title, that’s important.
One final bit of irony: neither Anna Jarvis nor Constance Smith, the mothers of Mother’s Day, were mothers themselves.
Ron Cherry lives in Nevada City.