The poet Robert Browning once said, “Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” Motherhood is a song as old as time that has been sung since the story of Adam and Eve.
The holiday observance of Mother’s Day in the United States did not officially begin until 1914, but long before that, people were unofficially celebrating mothers worldwide. As with Father’s Day, which can be traced back to as early as 4,000 years ago, Mother’s Day started its origins in the ancient world.
The Greeks and the Romans celebrated the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele with festivals in the pre-Christian world, but these were soon overtaken by the arrival of Christianity and a celebration called “Mothering Sunday.” Mothering Sunday, held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, was organized in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Some countries still celebrate Mother’s Day as a form of the original celebration, but the Mother’s Day known now in the United States is a holiday of its own. In 1908, a woman named Anna Jarvis celebrated the first unofficial Mother’s Day in West Virginia as a memorial for her mother, who had died in 1905.
Her mother, Ann, had created Mother’s Day Work Clubs as a way to address public health issues, as she was a peace activist who helped watch over both Union and Confederate soldiers who had been wounded in the war. Anna wanted to continue what her mother had started by campaigning for a federal Mother’s Day, and was quoted saying that mothers were “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Though at first the U.S. government did not accept the proposal for a federal holiday, by 1912, many states had already begun to celebrate it. It was not until 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson signed into legislation a joint resolution that would make the second Sunday in May the annual federal holiday of Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day soon became wildly popular, especially with retailers and shoppers. The holiday, which Anna at first intended to be celebrated merely within the family, quickly became hyper-commercialized. It only took six years for Anna to become fed up with how the holiday had evolved, and by 1920, she openly rejected the holiday, running another campaign to have the government take it off the calendar.
Anna was unsuccessful, however, and by the time of her death in 1948, her efforts had done nothing to stem the rising economic tide that was Mother’s Day. Greeting cards, jewelry, food, and flowers are just a few of the staple items included on the menu, and the holiday is now celebrated worldwide by many countries, though some on different dates and with different traditions.
This May 14, remember to tell your mother, your wife, or someone who is a mother figure to you how much you love and appreciate them. Anna Jarvis did not intend for the over-commercialization, and while flowers will always have a special place, the love between a mother and her family can never be said enough.