All that I am and will ever be I owe to my angel mother. Abraham Lincoln
The celebration of mothers has been around for a very long time (almost as long as there have been mothers, in fact.). The earliest can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, wife of Cronus and the mother of all the Gods. In Rome the most significant festival of this type was dedicated to the worship of Cybele, another mother goddess. Ceremonies in her honor began some 250 years before Christ was born and these festivities were notorious enough that followers of Cybele were later banished from Rome. In the British Isles and Celtic Europe, the goddess Brigid, and later her successor, St. Brigid, were honored with a spring Mothers Day, connected with the first milk of the ewes.
During the 1600s, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, England celebrated a day called Mothering Sunday. During this time, many of Englands poor, employed as apprentices and servants, lived at the houses of their employers. On this day they could return home to visit their mothers. A special cake, called the mothering cake, was often brought along to provide a festive touch. It was a kind of fruitcake or fruit-filled pastry known as simnels. Boiled in water then baked, it was often finished with an almond icing. Sometimes furmety, wheat grains boiled in sweet milk, sugared and spiced, was served. In northern England and Scotland, the preferred refreshments were carlings; pancakes made of steeped peas fried in butter, with pepper and salt. In some locations, this day was called Carling Sunday. By the nineteenth century, however, under whichever name and whatever treat, the holiday had almost completely died out.
In the United States Mothers Day was first suggested in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe (author of Battle Hymn of the Republic). Shortly after the Franco-Prussian War, she began promoting the idea of a "Mothers Day" to be celebrated on June 2, honoring peace, motherhood and womanhood. In 1873, women in 18 American cities held such a gathering and for ten years afterward Mrs. Howe sponsored Mothers Day meetings in Boston. They died out when Howe was no longer paying for them, although some celebrations did continue for thirty years afterwards.
In 1907 Anna M. Jarvis (1864-1948) who had moved from Grafton, West Virginia, to Philadelphia in 1890, began a campaign to establish a national Mothers Day. She never married and was extremely attached to her mother, Mrs. Anna Reese Jarvis who died in 1905. It was rumored that her grief was all the more intensified because she and her mother had quarreled and her mother had died before they could reconcile. After her mothers death, Anna Jarvis and her friends began a letter-writing campaign to gain the support of influential ministers, businessmen and congressmen in declaring a national Mothers Day holiday. She felt children often neglected to appreciate their mother enough while the parent was still alive and she hoped Mothers Day would strengthen family bonds.
Mrs. Jarviss efforts finally yielded results. Her mothers church, St. Andrews Methodist Episcopal in Grafton, West Virginia, responded to her request for a Sunday service honoring mothers. Mothers Day was celebrated on the second anniversary of her own mothers death on the second Sunday in May. Miss Jarvis supplied five hundred carnations, her mothers favorite flowers, at that very first service. White carnations were chosen because they represented the sweetness, purity and endurance of a mothers love. Red carnations, in time, became the symbol of a living mother. White ones now signify that ones mother has died.
In 1909 Mothers Day services were held in 46 states plus Canada and Mexico. Anna Jarvis gave up her daytime job to work full time writing letters to politicians, clergy members, business leaders, womens clubs and anyone else she thought might have some influence. She was able to enlist the Worlds Sunday School Association in her lobbying campaign, a key factor in convincing legislators to support the holiday. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mothers Day. In 1914 the US Congress passed a joint resolution, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it, establishing Mothers Day, emphasizing womens role in the family (not as activists in the public arena, as Howes Mothers Day had been).
Despite her success, Anna Jarvis was becoming increasingly unhappy about the commercialism that came to be associated with the holiday. She and the florist industry became bitter adversaries. "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment" she said, "not of profit." She also opposed the use of greeting cards, which she felt were "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."
In 1923 Anna Jarvis filed suit against New York Governor, Al Smith, over a Mothers Day celebration. When the court threw the suit out, she began a public protest and was arrested for disturbing the peace. In 1931 she criticized Eleanor Roosevelt for her work with a Mothers Day committee that was not her own committee. In the 1930s, the US Postal Service announced a Mothers Day stamp with the image of Whistlers Mother and a vase of white carnations. Anna Jarvis, with all the zeal of hatchet bearing Carrie Nation, campaigned against the stamp. She persuaded President Roosevelt to remove the words, Mothers Day, but not the white carnations. Also at this time, Jarvis disrupted a meeting of the American War Mothers, protesting their sale of white carnations for Mothers Day and was removed by the police!
To her dismay, Mothers Day remains one of the best sale days in the year for florists. Anna Jarvis never became a mother herself and died in 1948, blind and penniless. At the end of her life she had been confined to a nursing home. The bills, unbeknownst to her, were paid by the Florists Exchange! She was buried next to her mother in a cemetery in the Philadelphia area.
Mothers Day in Britain or Mothering Sunday came to be celebrated again after World War II. The second Sunday in May is Mothers day not only in the United States, but also in other parts of the world, including Denmark, Finland, Italy, Australia, and Belgium. Anna Jarvis lived to see Mothers Day celebrated in more than 40 countries. In France, the holiday is on the last Sunday in May. A special cake resembling a bouquet of flowers is presented to mothers at a family dinner. In Spain, it is a bit more religious, celebrated on December 8 to coincide with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
So whatever your faith or preference for fruitcake or carnations, dont forget your mama this year. Write a note either inside a card or instead of a card. Anna Jarvis was right about that. It takes a moment or two and people dont have time today for anything that cant be done quickly. Do something nice for another mother if yours is deceased. Mothers deserve to be applauded, for theirs is the most difficult and demanding job in the world. Just think for a minute about Christopher Columbus and the New World in which we all live. Where do you think he would be without his mother?
Happy Mothers Day to all!
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