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Mother’s Day

Where did Mother’s Day come from? Why are carnations the “official flower” of the holiday?

Humans have honored motherhood in ceremony, ritual, and celebration since ancient times.  Typically, though, those celebrations were in honor of goddesses and symbols, not actual human mothers.

Egypt: The ancient Egyptians were among the first, that we know of, to celebrate motherhood. Every year, they would hold a festival to honor Isis, the goddess of motherhood, magic, and fertility. She was worshiped as the ideal mother and wife, as well as mother of the pharaohs. One of her stories says that her brother, Seth, murdered her husband/brother, Osiris, so she reassembled her husband and used his body to impregnate herself. She gave birth to Horus (sky god, god of war and protection), and hid him from Seth among the reeds. Horus grew up and defeated Seth to become the first ruler of a unified Egypt. This festival was held at the beginning of winter.

Greece: The Greeks celebrated a number of mother goddesses, depending on the region. Some worshiped Gaia, the Earth Goddess, or Mother Earth. Some worshiped Meteroreie, the Mountain Mother, and some celebrated Rhea, the Mother of the Gods, and mother of Zeus. These celebrations took place near mid-March, likely just as nature was starting to bloom, and usually involved games, parades, and arts and crafts displays.

Rome: The Romans celebrated the festival of Isis, but commemorated an important battle and the beginning of winter with it. The link to Mother’s Day is seen more in the celebration of Cybele, the Earth Goddess, or Magna Mater (Great Mother). Cybele is the Roman interpretation of the Greek Rhea (the Romans were very unoriginal when it came to religion), and this celebration took place near the Vernal Equinox.

Europe: Early Christians celebrated a holiday on the fourth Sunday of Lent to celebrate the church where they were baptized, or their “Mother Church.” These Christians would decorate their Mother Church with jewels, flowers, and offerings.

Including human mothers: In the 1600s, England broadened the celebration to include human mothers, calling it “Mothering Day.” Working classes especially benefited from this holiday, with servants and trade workers having the opportunity to travel back to their home towns to visit family. Families were also given a one-day “cheat day” during Lent to have a large feast to celebrate Mother, as well as the Virgin Mary.

America: When settlers came to America, Mothering Day was left on the shores of England. However, in 1870, Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, was so distressed by the Civil War, that she wrote for mothers to come together to protest such a futile war. Her idea was to have an international Mother’s Day to celebrate peace and motherhood, and to stop American boys from killing each other. She even wanted the celebration to take place on July 4th, to dedicate the United States to peace. It was eventually designated for June 2nd.

In 1873, eighteen North American cities observed Mother’s Day for the first time. Initially, Howe herself funded the celebrations, and many died out once she no longer paid for them. Boston, however, continued to celebrate for another decade.

In West Virginia, Anna Reeves Jarvis started an adaptation of Howe’s Mother’s Day. Her Mother’s Friendship Day was an opportunity for families and neighbors divided by the Civil War to be reunited. After Anna Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, petitioned her mother’s church for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother, and in honor of peace. May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day was held at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, and a church in Philadelphia. Jarvis’ event drew 407 members, and white carnations (her mother’s favorite) were passed to the celebrants. Two carnations were given to every mother. Today, white carnations are used to celebrate the mothers who have passed on, while pink or red carnations are used to celebrate mothers who still live. Andrew’s was incorporated into the International Mother’s Day Shrine in 1962.

In 1908, a Senator from Nebraska, Elmer Burkett, proposed making a national Mother’s Day, as requested by the YMCA. The proposal was defeated, but by the next year, 46 states were holding Mother’s Day services, as well as in parts of Mexico and Canada. Anna Jarvis quit her job and started campaigning for a national Mother’s Day full-time. Finally, in 1912, West Virginia was the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother’s Day.

Jarvis would later try to copyright “Mother’s Day” and stop celebrations because she felt the commercialization was ruining her vision. In 1948, Anna Jarvis passed away, blind, poor, and childless, never knowing that it was The Florist’s Exchange, one company she fought against, that had anonymously paid for her care.


Argentina celebrates Dia de la madre on the second Sunday in October, though most of South America celebrates it in May, presumably because in the southern hemisphere, spring comes at that time of year.

France was inspired by American Doughboys of World War I, and celebrated the first Mother’s Day in 1918. Their La Fete de Meres was made official for December 19, 1920. Upon their repopulation attempts, mothers with four or five children were given a bronze medal. Mothers of six or seven would receive a silver medal, and mothers, like Octo-Mom, with eight children or more would receive a gold medal. This tradition was abandoned in 1945 with the institution of the National Day of Mothers.

India has a westernized Mother’s Day on May 10, but Hindus have long celebrated an October festival called Durga Puja to praise the divine mother, Durga.

Japanese Christians were celebrating an American-style Mother’s Day since 1913, but during World War II, all western customs were banned. After the war, haha no hi was started to comfort Mothers who had lost their children in the war. By 1949, Mother’s Day was back in force, with celebrations occurring on the second Sunday of May.

Mexicans celebrate Dia de las madres on May 10th, when mothers are treated to serenades.

In the United Kingdom, Mothering Day fell by the wayside in the early 1900s, but inspired by Americans, Mother’s Day took its place after World War II.

In Yugoslavia, three Sundays before Christmas is Children’s Day (Dechiyi Dan). The following Sunday is Mother’s Day (Materitse) and the Sunday after that is Father’s Day (Ochichi). On Children’s Day, children are tied up and not released until they promise to be good. (Maybe we should incorporate this into our celebrations… every day.) On Mother’s Day, mom is tied up until she gives the family treats. Father must promise more lavish gifts, which are usually the family’s Christmas gifts.

Australia (Mother’s Day), Bahrain (Ruz-e Madar), Belgium (Moederdag), Canada (Mother’s Day), China, Denmark (Mors Dag), Ethiopia (Antrosht), Finland (aidipayiva), Hong Kong (mu quin jie), Italy (La Festa della Mamma), Norway (Morsdag), Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (Yaum ul-umm), Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, and Turkey all celebrate their own versions of Mother’s Day as well.

To all the mothers in the world, Happy Mother’s Day, and to my own mom, I love you!


05/06/2011 Posted by | Learning | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment