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Posted by Jamie McKay on March 2, 2021
Like many celebrations, it is often assumed that Mother’s Day was created in America. However, this particular day originated a long, long time ago. Join us as we take a look at the fascinating history of Mother’s Day.
The origins of Mother’s Day can actually be traced back to ancient Greece. They would hold festivals to show their appreciation and honour of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, much like some men do now when Nigella has a new season of her cooking show on the BBC.
Mother’s Day as we know it morphed from this ancient celebration, into a Christian occasion on the fourth Sunday in Lent. In those days it was seen as a time when the Christians would return to the “mother church” (the main church where they live) for a celebratory service.
Over the course of time this shifted to an appreciation of all mothers, with flowers and other gifts being given by children to their mothers.
You may think that is the end of the History of Mother’s Day but wait! Don’t go anywhere, there’s more!
This celebration actually faded in popularity in the UK and it wasn’t until during the second world war, when it merged with the American Mother’s Day celebration.
You see, the American soldiers sent to UK in 1942 to help the allied forces brought with them candy, coca cola, chewing gum, nylon, fancy cigarettes and their own Mother’s Day!
The American G. I’s were paid a lot more than their British counterpoints (over five times the British wage and with no houses or flats to pay for) and as they were away from their families for such a long time, being able to pay to post flowers and other gifts to their Mothers back in America caught on here in the UK too.
American Mother’s Day dates back to the late nineteenth century when Ann Reeves Jarvis created Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. These clubs were started in an attempt to improve sanitary and hygiene conditions which had led to terrible infant mortality rates.
Then came the American Civil War and after the war had ended, in a bid to bring together former enemies Ann Reeves Jarvis created “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” a place where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers from the civil war.
At roughly the same time, 1870, two years later, the suffragette, author and poet Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation”:
“Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonour nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”
In 1905 Anna Reeves Jarvis died. Her daughter, Anna Reeves wanted to have a day in honour of all the work her Mother had done, Mother’s Day.
With financial backing from a wealthy department store owner, John Wanamaker, Mother’s Day celebrations took place in West Virginia churches and in the Philadelphia retail stores owned by John Wanamaker.
Anna Jarvis wanted, and campaigned relentlessly, to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. Having the same drive and determination as her mother eventually paid off.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure establishing the second Sunday in May officially as Mother’s Day.
One of the ironies of Mother’s becoming so successful is that the original message was lost. Becoming so commercialised was not what Anna Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to be. Giving money to department stores was a far cry from the work her Mother had done during and after the Civil War.
She became so disillusioned with what had happened to Mother’s Day she even campaigned (unsuccessfully) to have it removed from the National Calendar.
Of course, Mother’s Day isn’t just celebrated in the UK and the USA. All over the world different countries and cultures have their own ways of showing appreciation to Mothers.
A 10-day festival known as Durga Puja is celebrated by Hindus. Durga is the Hindu Goddess of Mothers (amongst other things!) and families spend weeks preparing food, gift, and decorating their homes for the celebration.
In stark contrast to how the US brought Mother’s Day to the UK in World War Two, in Japan, modern Mother’s Day became popular as a way of comforting mothers who had lost sons in the war. Carnations are given in Japan as they symbolize the endurance of motherhood in Japanese culture.
In Lithuania, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in May, where a Lithuanian mother was traditionally honoured with a cake, to resembles a bouquet of flowers, followed by a traditional family dinner.
The image of a mother figure or a nurse and a carer is often found in Lithuanian folk songs, folklore, and literature of Lithuania.
We hope that our foray into the history of Mother’s Day was an interesting read, we could have gone on and on but would have used up all the internet!
However you choose to celebrate Mother’s Day this year (14th March in the UK) we hope you all treat your Mother’s to a gift and show them just how much they are appreciated.
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