It has been said that holidays like Mother’s Day are actually manufactured celebrations, created only to sell cards and gifts. It is not really true that Mother’s Day was created to boost sales and create commerce, but that’s not to say that the evolution of the holiday didn’t cause quite a commotion, especially by its own creator.
Holidays very much like our American Mother’s Day have been celebrated globally for centuries. There were festivals in Egypt and Rome honoring the goddesses Isis, and Cybele and Rhea, respectively. European celebrations of the Virgin Mary were expanded in the 1600s to include all mothers with a celebration called Mothering Day. The Mother’s Day as we know it today in America was established by a woman named Anna Jarvis. Her mother, named Ann Jarvis, had attempted to establish Mothers Work Clubs in the late 1860s, meant to help clean cities and tend wounded Civil War soldiers. After the war, she established a Mother’s Friendship Day to unite families from both sides, North and South.
Ann’s death devastated Anna, who began what has become our modern Mother’s Day. She wanted it to be “Mother’s Day” (singular), rather than “Mothers’ Day” (plural), so that each family could focus on their own mothers and not all mothers, everywhere. It was meant to be a day to spend time with your mother, to thank her for all that she had done for you. Jarvis campaigned heavily for Mother’s Day to become a national holiday, finally finding success when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it so in 1914. The carnation became the symbol for the holiday, simply because it was Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower.
What was meant to be an intimate family celebration soon became too commercialized, in Anna Jarvis’ eyes. Almost immediately, stores and florists began to capitalize on Mother’s Day, which infuriated Jarvis. Nine years after it was declared a national holiday, she began crusading against the day she, herself, created. She held boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and was even arrested in her efforts to stop what she saw as profiteering. She was very vocal about the purchasing of greeting cards, saying it was a sign that someone was too lazy to write a proper letter. Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life and her entire fortune protesting the commercialization of an event that she meant to be pure and sincere.
Today, Mother’s Day is one of the most consumer-driven holidays of the year. It is the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant. According to National Geographic Magazine, over 65% of Americans will buy flowers for their mothers and 30% plan to give jewelry. Hallmark Cards, which sold its first Mother’s Day card in the early 1920s, ranks Mother’s Day as the number three holiday of their sales year (behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day), earning them almost $70 million dollars each year.
So, what do we take away from the story of Anna Jarvis, the woman who loved her mother so much that she created a holiday in her honor? Perhaps, simply, that we should each honor our mothers in a way that makes them happiest. There is nothing wrong with giving a gift to your mother if it is from the heart and meant to bring her joy. But, simply buying a present instead of doing something heartfelt does your mother a disservice. Mother’s Day was created so that we have the opportunity to tell mom that we love her and to thank her – which most of us don’t do enough. This year, take a moment to tell your own mother or mother figure, “thank you,” for all she has given. (Or, if you can’t tell her in person, send up a thankful thought.) And a handwritten card might be a nice touch.
P.S. The beautiful women featured in the photo above are mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, and friends.