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History of Mother's Day

Updated on January 13, 2011

Hilaria Festival Celebrated Mother Goddesses

The concept of Mother's Day began around 250 BC in ancient Rome
The concept of Mother's Day began around 250 BC in ancient Rome


Ever wonder where Mother's Day came from?

Well, if you want to go back far enough, to the very first glimpse of the concept, you would find that the ancient Romans held a festival called Hilaria, which was dedicated to the worship of mother goddesses. That was about two hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ and held three days from the Ides of March. Whether that was three days before or after, I'm afraid I can't say, I don't know.

Fast forward to England, the 1600's and you would find people observing, "Mothering Sunday" on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Back then, there were a lot of poor people working as servants to the wealthy. Usually, they lived at their place of employment, far from home. On Mothering Sunday, they got a day off and were encouraged to visit their mothers. As was the custom, a "mothering cake" (reportedly a rich fruit cake) was taken to add a festive touch.

Julia Ward Howe

Julia brought Mother's Day to America
Julia brought Mother's Day to America

Mother's Day is Introduced to the Twentieth Century

It was the twentieth century before a day was officially dedicated to moms around the world. Two American women are the ones to thank for it.

The first, Julia Ward Howe, was the author of the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".

In 1872, she suggested the idea of a Mother's Day, optimistically hoping that it would become a day dedicated to peace, and so for several years, organized Mother's Day meetings in Boston.

Other people in different communities began to celebrate the occasion on their own but it didn't really catch on until Anna Jarvis came into the picture in 1907.

Anna Jarvis

To many, Anna's name is synonymous with Mother's Day
To many, Anna's name is synonymous with Mother's Day

Anna was very close to her mother, Mrs. Anna Reese Jarvis, who was a minister's daughter and who taught Sunday School for twenty years. On May 9, 1905, Mrs. Jarvis died in Pennsylvania. To honour her memory, Anna asked her mother's original church in Grafton, West Virginia, and the one they attended after moving to Philadelphia, to hold special services on the second Sunday of May on the second anniversary of her mother's death. Anna also asked everyone to wear a white carnation (Mom's favourite flower), and started a letter writing campaign to ministers and politicians in support of the idea of an official Mother's Day. It took awhile.

Woodrow Wilson

Issued a declaration to officially recognize Mother's Day
Issued a declaration to officially recognize Mother's Day

The President Gets Involved

President Woodrow Wilson finally made the declaration in 1914. It was really a technicality, however, as the U.S., Mexico, Canada, South America, China, Japan and Africa had been observing the special day since 1911. There had even been an organization called The Mother's Day International Association in existence since 1912 to promote the event.

With such phenomenal success, you'd think that Anna Jarvis would have been thrilled but she she became disillusioned, instead. Her intent was a solemn religious service. The end result was the commercialism of flowers, cards and gifts that we now freely associate with the second Sunday of May. While this still adheres to Anna's original intention of honouring mothers, she was never able to accept it.

Celebrating Motherhood Today

Nowadays, celebrations continue on the same day in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium, as in Canada and the United States. Sweden and France recognize Mom as special on the last Sunday in May but if you live in South Africa, you'll need cards for the first Sunday. If you come from Serbia, you don't have to worry about it until the last Sunday in December.

Yugoslavia has a quaint custom to honour their mothers. Two Sundays before Christmas, Yugoslav children tie up their mom's feet in order to ransom a present from her. Serbia's customs are similar. Apparently, the mothers don't mind, as they see the presents as a symbol of God's gift to the world.

In Alberta, Canada, some native people have a big spring pow-wow featuring a special ceremonial dance. Here in Ontario, different service clubs hold annual Mother's Day banquets or brunches.

Of course, this special day is celebrated privately in every mother's home.

Happy Mother's Day!

History of Mother's Day / The History of Mother's Day by Shirley Anderson, ©1996. All rights reserved. Photos are public domain.

This hub is an article reprint from the Old South Advocate


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