Hopefully everyone enjoyed their Mother's Day brunches and corny drugstore cards this past Sunday! Perhaps we could all alleviate our post Mamma's Day depression by appreciating how this aggrandized Hallmark holiday evolved into what it is today!
Mothers Day can be traced all the way back to a festival held by the Ancient Egyptians in honor of the Goddess Isis (pictured above) “patron saint of women and children.” This festival was later adopted by the Ancient Romans in order to mark the beginning of winter. These celebrations featured mainly female dancers and singers.
Greek Goddess Rhea
Ancient Grecians held 3 day festivals filled with games, parades, food, and entertainment in honor of Mother Goddess Rhea. In mythology Rhea was a titan, and mother of Zeus. The Legend goes that Rhea’s husband Kronos was fearful of a prophesy that said he would be overthrown by one of his sons, so whenever Rhea would give birth to a boy, Kronos would swallow the baby. When Zeus was born, Rhea hid him away and tricked Kronos into swallowing a stone she wrapped in clothes. In Greek “Rhea” translates to “flow and ease,” representing the eternal flow of time and generations.
Roman Goddess Cybele
In Ancient Rome they had a celebration of their own goddess Cybele or “Magna Mater” (the Great Mother) between March 15 and March 22.
In 16th Century England there was a holiday called “Mothering Sunday” in which, domestic servants were given a day off to attend their “mother church” (the main church in the area) on the 4th Sunday of Lent. It was a tradition for young children to pick wild flowers along the way to church to give their mothers (so we have them to thank for our flower—infested living rooms!).
Ann Jarvis (1864-1948)
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the campaign for modern American Mother's Day truly began, thanks to the bad ass first-wave feminist Ann Jarvis. She began her escapades in West Virginia before the Civil War, when she helped start “Mother's Day Work Clubs to teach local women how to properly care for their children. Then in 1868 Jarvis organized "Mothers’ Friendship Day" where mothers gathered with former union and confederate soldiers to promote unity after the war. In 1905 Ann Jarvis campaigned for a "mother's day" as a way to honor the sacrifices that mothers made for their children. She was able to gain financial backing from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker. Subsequently, in May of 1908 Ann Jarvis organized the first official Mother's Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Jarvis tried to get the holiday onto the national calendar. She argued that American holidays were biased toward male achievements and started a letter writing campaign to newspapers and politicians, urging for the adoption of a Mother's Day (you go girl!). By 1912 many states had adopted Mother's Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause.
Mothers Day Proclamation
Finally in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a measure establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. Wohoo, lady appreciation!
Ann originally thought that Mother's Day would be a day of personal celebration between mothers and families. She envisioned that people would wear a white carnation as a badge and spend the day visiting their mothers and attending church. To Ann’s dismay, the holiday became exploited by capitalism. Ann responded to this by urging people to stop buying mothers day cards, flowers, and candies. She spent the remainder of her life launching countless lawsuits against groups who used the name “Mother's Day,” and trying to remove the holiday from the calendar. Uhm, that's actually pretty sad.
Evidently, Mother's Day has not gone in the direction that Ann Jarvis had originally planned, considered today by some to be morally skewed with its emphasis on profit rather than mothers. Although, despite all the capitalist-conspiracy jabber, it is still a wonderful excuse for people to spend time with their families and tell their mommys how much they love them!