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Celebrating Motherís Day: Ancient Origins

If you search the Internet for information about the history of Motherís Day, most websites will provide information about the ancient Greeks who had a feast day that celebrated Rhea, the mother of the gods.  In later years (third century BC), the Romanís celebrated Hilaria, a three-day feast in honor of the mother goddess Cybele (you may know it as the Ides of March).


However, that day was not meant to honor the worshipers or their own mothers.  Mothers were not forgotten in ancient times, nor were they forgotten about until the first modern Motherís Day came into being during the seventeenth century.  Throughout history, mothers have been honored at many feasts and festivals for their fertility.  Many of the spring celebrations, such as for European pre-Christian civilizations, had feasts to celebrate fertility Ė hence the fertility of the women, i.e., mothers.  Every religion has some type of ceremony that blesses fertility or motherhood, even if there is not a day designated as such.  The mother is (or should be) honored during pregnancy and after birth.  You might even say that motherís were/are celebrated all year round.  As civilizations evolved, we may have begun to forget about mom years after we leave the nest.  It may be that we may have forgotten about our moms, and a day just for them is just what is needed Ė and not just to make the card companies rich.


The History and Origin of Mothering Day

Mothering Day is a day that has been designated to celebrate mothers.  The roots of the holiday may have stemmed from the ancient Greco-Roman celebrations evolving with the spread of Christianity from a celebration of the mother of the ancient gods, to the Mother of the Church, Mary (celebrated by traveling to the church a Christian was originally Baptized, which was usually the town your mother lived in), eventually becoming Mothering Day. The modern holiday of Mothering Day began sometime in the 1600ís.  The holiday began when a number of the rich upper class in England decided to allow their servants the day off so they could go and visit their mothers (note: many servants lived at the homes of their employers and would have to travel).  The holiday was observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent (the Christian period of repentance and prayer leading up to Easter).


The holiday would be celebrated by going to church with the whole family, then returning to the parentís house for a huge feast.  The children would bring small gifts, sweets and other treats for the mother. A traditional treat of the holiday is called the mothering cake (a very rich fruit cake, also called a simnel cake), which the children usually baked for their moms.  One of the traditional dishes for the holiday is furmety.  Furmety is made by boiling wheat grains in sweet milk, then adding lots of sugar and spice. In the north of England and in Scotland, the traditional dish is a type of pancake called a carling (the dish is so popular that in some towns the day is refered to as Carling Sunday).

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Origin and History of Motherís Day in the United States

Motherís Day in the United States did not begin until 1872, when Julia Ward Howe suggested a day to celebrate mothers and would be a day dedicated to peace.  She began to hold organized Motherís Day celebrations in Massachusetts. [Note: Julia Ward Howe wrote the Battle Hymm of the Republic.]  The idea began to spread to other parts of the country.


Three decades later, in 1907, Anna Jarvis, wanted to dedicate a day to her deceased mother (Reese Jarvis) and had her motherís church (in Grafton, West Virginia), celebrate Motherís Day on the second anniversary of her motherís day (the 2nd Sunday of May).  In 1908, her hometown of Philadelphia celebrated Motherís Day.  Anna Jarvis recruited politicians, church leaders, business leaders and many others to help spread the idea of the holiday through speeches, letter writing and a host of other means. The celebration of a day dedicated to mothers spread around the country like wildfire.  In 1910, the state of West Virginia officially proclaimed a Motherís Day holiday. Within the next two years, almost every state had officially proclaimed a holiday to honor mothers.


The Motherís Day International Association was incorporated in December of 1912 to organize the establishment of a national holiday and to further the cause of motherhood around the world.


In 1914, the holiday received an official proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson, that Motherís Day was to be celebrated every year on the second Sunday of May. Every president since Wilson has made a similar proclamation each year. [Note: although Anna Jarvis was delighted with having a national holiday, she became disillusioned with it. She originally set out to provide a more religious observance for mothers, but it became too secularized and commercialized for her.  She was eventually admitted to a sanitarium in the late 1940 and passed away on November 24, 1948.

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International Celebration of Motherís Day

Almost every country around the world has some type of Motherís Day celebration, although not always on the second Sunday of May. Some dates of celebrations around the world include:

  • US, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Turkey: Second Sunday in May

  • Great Britian: Fourth Sunday of Lent

  • Spain: On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (to honor mothers and Mary, mother of Jesus)

  • France: Last Sunday of May

Carnations: The Flower of Mother's Day

Carnations are the ďofficialĒ symbol of Motherís Day.  This is due to the fact that the favorite flower of Anna Jarvisís mother was the carnation.  It is a beautiful flower and very appropriate to honor our mothers.  There is also a tradition as to which color carnation to purchase.  If you have not seen mom in a long time, or are sending the flowers because you cannot be with her, white carnations are given.  However, if you see mom all the time, to show your love for her, red carnations are the correct color.


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