The History of Mother’s Day
The history of Mother’s Day is quite long. Most people think it began in the early 1900’s, and while the move towards an official holiday began around the time, the actual history of Mother’s Day dates back much, much further. It’s roots can be traced all the way back to ancient Greek and Roman culture.
Ancient History of Mother’s Day
The history of Mother’s Day has its beginnings in an ancient annual spring festival of the Greeks which was dedicated to their maternal goddesses. At that time, the day was used to honor Rhea, the wife of Cronus and the mother of many of the dieties of Greek mythology.
Much like the Greeks, ancient Romans had a similar festival to honor Cybele, essentially their version of Rhea. This celebration, which lasted for three days, consisted of parades, games, and masquerades. The celebrations were so gregarious that followers of Cybele were actually banned from Rome.
Even early Christians had a sort of a Mother’s Day. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, early Christians honored the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. That celebration was expanded in England to include all mothers and became known as Mothering Sunday.
Medieval History of Mother’s Day
Mothering Sunday can be traced back to England around the 1600s. Celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent to honor the Virgin Mary as well as all mothers, Mothering Day was a day of gifts to all mothers. After a prayer service honoring the Virgin Mary, children brought gifts and flowers to honor their own mothers.
During this time in the history of Mother’s Day, servants, apprentices, and other employees where encouraged by their employers to visit their mothers while they were off for the day. Traditional Mothering Day gifts included special fruit cakes or fruit-filled pastries.
Modern History of Mother’s Day
Julia Ward Howe
The modern history of Mother’s Day can be traced to Julia Ward Howe. While she did not have a role in founding the Mother’s Day we know now, she was the first person in modern times to suggest a day honoring mothers. She first suggested the idea in 1872. This activist, writer, and poet, known for her Civil War song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, suggested June 2nd as a day celebrating mothers and dedicated to peace.
This earliest incarnation of Mother’s Day, known as Mother’s Peace Day was meant to be a simultaneous stand against war and an honoring of mothers. The idea spread, but it was later replaced by the modern Mother’s Day we now celebrate.
In the history of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis can rightfully be called the mother of modern Mother’s Day. Although she was never married nor a mother, she worked tirelessly for a day to honor all mothers. Anna Jarvis’ inspiration for Mother’s Day came from her own mother, Anna Marie Reeves. Reeves was an activist and social worker who always said that all mothers, both living and dead, should be honored for their work raising upstanding children.
After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis began pushing the idea of Mother’s Day. She and her supporters wrote letters to people in positions of power and influence and lobbied for an official Mother’s Day holiday. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state in the nation. On May 8th, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration making Mother’s Day the second Sunday in May.
Present Day Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is now celebrated internationally. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Turkey, Italy, Australia, Mexico, China, Japan, Belgium, and more all have a national holiday honoring mothers.
While I’m sure Anna Jarvis would have loved to know that her idea to honor mothers had gained international popularity, it’s important to note that she would have been greatly saddened at the extreme commercialism of the current holiday. She devoted her life to Mother’s Day, but even back in the 1900s, she was known to be deeply saddened by the commercialism that was put upon the holiday almost immediately.
The History of Mother’s Day – A Long Time Coming
The history of Mother’s Day is a long one, with many twists and turns along the way. From its beginnings in ancient Greece and Rome to the holiday we know today, the history of Mother’s Day has seen its share of incarnations. And while Anna Jarvis may not have agreed with the commercialism that now surrounds the holiday, I think she would have enjoyed knowing that mothers world-wide are honored for their part in a strong family unit.