Say the words ‘Mother’s Day’ and people immediately think of Hallmark, overpriced flowers and restaurants and cafés too packed to get a seat. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Modern Mother’s Days (there are many varying versions all over the world, at different times of the year) all originated with the idea of giving support or raising awareness of ‘mothers’. They began as a way to commemorate the amazing things our mums do for us.
The commercialisation of Mother’s Day came much later. But that’s not the whole story.
The question is where did the idea for having a day devoted to mothers come from in the first place? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think – and Hallmark doesn’t have anything to do with it.
When is Mother’s Day and where does it come from?
Of course, things all started with pagans. In Ancient Greece, Spring celebrations honoured the Titan goddess Rhea – mother of the gods and therefore the Goddess of Motherhood. Rhea’s mum was Gaea – or Mother Earth. The Greeks would hold a festival in honour of Rhea to bring them good harvests for that year.
So the prototype of Mother’s Day is really a rite to the ultimate mother – Mother Earth.
However, I’m guessing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day didn’t get much of a look-in on Mount Olympus. According to myth, Rhea’s husband Cronus was overthrown and banished by his son Zeus. So no flowers? No card?
Following on from the pagans and their festival rituals, Christianity developed this ‘worshipping the mother’ concept into a religious sacrament.
Christians in the 1600s in England celebrated a day in Spring to honour the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, which was later set on the fourth Sunday of Lent, three weeks before Easter. The Church then made it a day when people could go to their main cathedral or ‘mother’ church rather than to their parish
The date went on to be known as ‘Mothering Sunday’ and a celebration of all mothers. Many of the working-class who were indentured house servants were granted this Sunday as a holiday to go back home and spend time with their families.
Today ‘Mothering Sunday’ in the UK occurs from early to late March depending on when Easter falls that year.
A completely different Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day in the USA (and many other countries) has nothing to do with the old pagan or Christian festivals mentioned above.
Anna Marie Jarvis held the first memorial service for her mum on Sunday 10th May 1908 at the Sunday school where she’d taught. Her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis had been a social activist and had died on 8th May three years previously. She inspired her daughter to found Mother’s Day with the words:
I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.
The idea of holding a celebration to remember mothers caught on and soon became popular in many US states. By 1914 – after heavy campaigning – President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day an official holiday.
The second Sunday in May is now the most popular date around the world to celebrate mothers, with over 65 countries paying tribute to their mums.
Australian Mother’s Day – 14th May
Australian Mother’s Day is commonly attributed to the philanthropic efforts of Mrs Janet Heyden from Petersham, Sydney. In 1923 Mrs Heyden began a movement to raise funds for care packages for the ‘aged forgotten mothers’ living in Sydney’s Newington State Hospital for Women.
From that year until her death in 1960, Mrs Heyden continued her work raising aid and awareness for mothers, and she never stopped visiting the mothers of Newington Hospital on a regular basis. Her actions attracted the attention and praise of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, and the likes of star Gracie Fields and the mayor of Sydney.
Much like American Anna Jarvis before her, Janet was disappointed with the way Mother’s Day had been turned into a commercial undertaking rather than a humanitarian concept to remember the person who brought us into the world – our mum.
They both reviled the commercialisation we all know and resent, and campaigned to have this changed, although sadly neither was successful.
Mother’s Day today varies around the globe. Norway celebrates it first in mid-February. Indonesia on the other hand is last to have its Mother’s Day, leaving it right until 22nd December.
Whenever and however we do it, honouring our mothers is an important part of most societies and cultures. There’s a reason we have a special day for it – even since ancient times.
So why not give Mum a call on Mother’s Day? She deserves it.