Mother’s Day: A Holiday Celebrated Around the World

Mothers are extremely dedicated and special women. Without our mothers none of us would be here. With many years of their lives dedicated to raising and molding their children, a day to celebrate them is most richly deserved.

As a holiday, Mother’s Day has a long and rich history for being a celebration not only in the United States, but also around the world. Let’s explore the meaning behind this annual event, and dive into some of the most famous quotes and observances from around the world.

An Overview of the Holiday

This holiday celebrating mothers occurs every year in North America. It honors mothers themselves, maternal principles, and the role of mothers in modern society. Around the world similar holidays are celebrated in March or May. In America it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May each year.

The dates for this year and several coming years are listed below:

This holiday also coincides with other similar days throughout the year such as Father’s Day and Siblings Day. While the official day began in the 20th century in the United States, the actual concept of celebrating mothers stretches back to Greek and Roman era beliefs. The Greeks for example had a cult for Cybele who was seen as a mother goddess similar to Gaia.

In Rome, there was a festival of Hilaria which was a celebration of rejoicing such as when a son or daughter was born. The festival was most commonly celebrated on March 25th to honor Cybele who the Romans believed was the mother of the gods.

Further more, the Christian celebration known as Mothering Sunday also dates back to early historical times. It is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent and it was originally dedicated to the mother of the church, but it has since been used as a day for honoring mothers with gifts.

While other traditions around the world have their own dates and traditions, the fact remains that honoring mothers is an important holiday for everyone, regardless of where they live.

The History of Mother’s Day in the United States

The first seeds of this holiday were planted after the American Civil War in the 19th century. Mothers in the United States would meet for peace groups. One of the more common groups was composed of mothers who had sons that fought or died in both sides of the war.

In 1868 the mother of Anna Jarvis, Ann Jarvis, put together a committee to establish what she called “Mother’s Friendship Day.” The purpose of this group was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.”

Previously she had also organized “Work Clubs” where mothers would work together to improve the sanitation and health of camps on both the Union and Confederate sides of the war. These locations were struggling with Typhoid outbreaks as a result of the infection. She sought to take this concept and expand it into an annual holiday for mothers.

Unfortunately, she passed away in 1905 before the concept was able to take off. Her daughter, however, was able to continue where her mother left off. Limited variations of the celebration occurred throughout the 1870s and 1880s. During this time there were already several holidays each year that were already celebrated by the Protestant schools:

Others were also included, which led to a crowded schedule as it was. In New York City, there was an anti-war mother’s celebration for peace held by Julia Ward Howe on June 2, 1872. This day was also accompanied by an “Appeal to womanhood throughout the world.” It was written by Howe as a peaceful reaction to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.

The proclamation had a basis in Howe’s feminist belief that women were responsible for shaping the societies that lived in at a political level. She asked for this day to be celebrated each year, but the tradition didn’t last.

On May 13, 1877 there was a day of honoring mother’s held at Albion, Michigan. It came about as a result of arguments made over the Temperance Movement. This movement was meant to encourage moderation of alcohol consumption among individuals. The extreme sides of this movement encouraged government to complete prohibit or limit the sales of liquor through alcohol laws.

A local by the name of Juliet Calhoun Blakely supposedly stepped up to finish a sermon from the Reverend Myron Daugherty. He was reportedly unable to complete it because of an event from the previous night where his sons were forced by anti-temperance members at gunpoint to drink in a saloon until they became publically drunk.

Blakely stood at the pulpit and called on mothers to join her. Both of her sons were present and incredibly moved by what she said. They went on a campaign since they were traveling salesmen and promised to return each year with others to pay tribute to her.

This resulted in the Albion Methodist Episcopal Church setting aside the Second Sunday in May each year starting in the 1880s, to honor mothers.

Returning to the Jarvis family, the modern holiday as we know it in America began in 1904, prior to the death of Anna Jarvis’ mother. Frank E. Hering who was President of the Fraternal Order of Eagles at the time made a request: “a national day to honor our mothers.”

The first service dedicated to the holiday under the supervision of Jarvis was in Grafton, West Virginia where Ann’s mother had taught Sunday School. It was held on May 10, 1908. The next year saw the day celebrated widely throughout New York.

Jarvis’ focus was to solidify the day as a national holiday and then pursue an international iteration of it. In 1910, the state of West Virginia declared it a holiday, and other states soon join in as well. On May 10, 1913 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that asked all federal government employees to wear a white carnation the following day in observance of the holiday.

On May 8, 1914 the U.S. Congress passed a law that officially made the second Sunday in May “Mother’s Day.” The following day, President Woodrow Wilson released a proclamation declaring the holiday as “a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of mothers whose sons died in war.”

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt also approved a stamp to commemorate the holiday.

Traditions and Observances

There are various traditions and celebrations that Americans partake in each year as this holiday rolls around. Here are some of the popular ones and how they’ve become a source of commercialization in America.

  1. Church Attendance

Many Americans will attend church services on this day. The focus of the sermons and the service is usually on the miracle of childbirth and the importance of respecting and honoring mothers for the sacrifices they give to ensure the health and success of their children. Often times mothers will be given a small gift or asked to stand at a point during the service to be recognized.

  1. Carnations

The first celebration in 1908 was marked with carnations. Anna Jarvis brought over 500 of them to deliver to the people celebrating. Many religious services also have taken on the tradition of handing out the aesthetically pleasing flower. This resulted in a custom where people wear a carnation on their person to celebrate the holiday.

These flowers were a favorite of Anna Jarvis’ mother, which is why she chose them. To compensate with the sales of other flowers and to eliminate the total sellout of white carnations, it was popularized to wear a red carnation if your mother was alive and a white one if she had passed away.

  1. Commercialization and Controversy

After the first celebration of the holiday, there was an immediate upturn in promotions and sales of products surrounding it. After nine years, Anna Jarvis began to spoke out against the major advertisements and products that were promoted during the holiday. She claimed that these commercializations were “an abuse of the celebration.”

One of her arguments for example was that greeting cards were a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. Her outcries reached a peak in 1948 when she was arrested for disturbing the peace while protesting. While some people may agree with her on the subject of commercialization around holidays, the annual occasion still manages to bring in substantial amount of money each year.

Each year it is one of the most popular days to dine at a local restaurant and it generates a significant amount of the jewelry industry’s total revenue. All in all, there is over $2.6 billion spent on flowers, 1.53 billion spent on gifts, and $68 million spent on greeting cards.

The importance of our mothers is something that should always be the focus of Mother’s Day. Even with the spending, the gifts, and the greeting cards, it’s important to remember why we celebrate the holiday.