My mother died in 2002, so I did not join the armies of shoppers all over North America this week, ringing up sales of cards, restaurant meals, chocolates or flowers. However, I did think about Mother’s Day (the modern one, not the British Mothering Day from which it originated, or the celebrations of the ancient Egyptians and Romans which honoured the goddesses and are the root of this celebration of women/mothers.)
The first North American Mother’s Day was conceptualized with Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870. Despite having penned The Battle Hymn of the Republic 12 years earlier, Howe had become so distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War that she called on Mother’s to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers. She called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood; she even proposed converting July 4th into Mother’s Day, in order to dedicate the nation’s anniversary to peace. Eventually June 2nd was designated for the celebration. In 1873 women’s groups in 18 North American cities observed this new Mother’s holiday. After Anna Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. In 1908, Anna petitioned the superintendent of the church where her Mother had spent over 20 years teaching Sunday School. Her request was honored, and on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia and a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1908 a U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Elmer Burkett, proposed making Mother’s Day a national holiday at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The proposal was defeated, but by 1909 forty-six states were holding Mother’s Day services as well as parts of Canada and Mexico.
Anna Jarvis quit working and devoted herself full time to the creation of Mother’s Day, endlessly petitioning state governments, business leaders, women groups, churches and other institutions and organizations. She finally convinced the World’s Sunday School Association to back her, a key influence over state legislators and congress. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The holiday flourished in the United States and flowers became very popular. One business journal wrote, “This was a holiday that could be exploited.” But the budding commercialization of Mother’s Day greatly disturbed Jarvis, so she vociferously opposed what she perceived as a misuse of the holiday. In 1923 she sued to stop a Mother’s Day event, and in the 1930’s she was arrested for disturbing the peace at the American War Mothers group. She was protesting their sale of flowers. Despite her efforts, flower sales on Mother’s Day continued to grow. (Anna Jarvis died in 1948, blind, poor and childless.)
The National Retail Foundation predicts Mother’s Day is a $14 Billion industry; Google spikes in search traffic for “Mother’s Day” in the US and UK. Florists see their highest sales in May. Restaurants claim that it is the busiest day of the year. Long distance telephone calls also peak on this day. According to Hallmark, 96% of American consumers take part in shopping on Mother’s Day, while retailers report it as the second highest gift giving day of the year behind Christmas
Many countries, regardless of the Western trend, continue attach much more symbolic and/or religious importance to their Mother’s Day celebrations.
I am releived that I no longer contribute to the North American industry known as Mother’s Day. Tomorrow, as some mothers are subjegated to bad breakfasts made by their children, to sitting in noisy restaurants, to opening expensive cards and over-packaged and equally expensive boxes of chocolates, to dutifully placing flowers into little-used vases dug out of the back of the kitchen cupboard, to receiving the only phonecalls of this year from their distant children or grandkids, I truly hope that those moms will smile knowingly, as my late mother would have smiled, and know in their heart of hearts that they are usually loved, sometimes respected, occasionally misunderstood, rarely appreciated enough, and almost ALWAYS doing the hardest and most important job in the world.
I echo the sentiments of Julia Ward Howe and suggest that we celebrate PEACE and MOTHERHOOD…furthermore, I think that we must work to resolve the conflicts in our world and stop the futility of Sons (and Daughters) killing the Sons (and Daughters) of other Mothers,