Mother’s Day is not a modern-day celebration. However, the American version of Mother’s Day has its origins in the early 20th century. Discover the origins of ancient and modern-day celebrations of this day in the United States and across the globe.
Early Celebrations Of Mother’s Day
Ancient Mother’s Day celebrations did not honor every mother, but instead honored mother goddesses Rhea and
Cybele in ancient Greek and Roman cultures. The Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India explains that while the Greeks honored Rhea, wife of Cronus and mother of several Greek deities, Romans dedicated their spring festival “Hilaria” to mother Goddess Cybele, 250 years before the birth of Christ. The three-day festival included games and masquerades.
Apparently, the festival celebration to honor mother goddess Cybele was not similar to the modern-day often quiet, family-oriented Mother’s Day celebration. Some people found themselves banished from Rome after the notorious mother goddess celebration!
Celebrating Mothers During The Middle Ages
During the 1600s, the English Church set aside a day to honor Mother Mary, Christ’s mother. Holiday Spot points out that a religious order by the Church expanded the day to honor all mothers. “Mothering Day,” celebrated and honored mothers across England on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
On Mothering Sunday, servants were encouraged to take the day off and spend the day with their mothers. A special cake or pastry for mothers often added to the festivities. However, Mothering Sunday did not last in its original form. Instead, the Church of England celebrated Mother Church, to celebrate “the spiritual power that gave them life and protected them from harm.”
When the Church of England stopped the original Mothering Sunday in favor of honoring “Mother Church,” that single celebration did not last long either. Eventually, as Christianity spread, celebrations honoring Mother Church combined with the celebration of Mothering Sunday, brought back a day to honor mothers across England. The custom soon spread to other European countries. However, as the British began settling in America, the custom of honoring mothers was once again largely discontinued.
Early American Mother’s Day
In 1861, Ann Reeves Jarvis organized “Mother’s Work Day Clubs.” These work clubs consisted of education classes for local women who were taught how to properly care for their children. History explains that these clubs “became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War.” After the Civil War ended, Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day.” On this day, mothers met with both Union and Confederate soldiers in order to promote reconciliation. Jarvis likely did not recognize that the name “Jarvis” would forever become associated with Mother’s Day.
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe urged mothers to come together to promote world peace in her “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Howe, a noted abolitionist, and suffragette, also wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Modern Day Observances
The daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis is actually recognized as the force behind the modern Mother’s Day. Time Magazine calls Anna Jarvis “The 60-year-old Philadelphia spinster who invented Mother’s Day.”
In May 1907, Anna Jarvis convinced her church to hold a service on the anniversary of her mother’s death. The idea began to catch on nationwide, largely due to Anna’s letter-writing campaign. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Protests To End The Day
It was Anna Jarvis herself who campaigned for an end to Mother’s Day. Infuriated at the commercialism of Mother’s Day, she called for an end of the celebration. International Business Times explains that Jarvis actually sued businesses who used Mother’s Day To promote consumerism.” She spent all her money lobbying for an end to the holiday she created.
Today, Mother’s Day is a huge business. Florists, retailers, restaurants and other businesses reap profits of sons, daughters, and spouses showing appreciation and love on Mother’s Day.