Mother's Day is a special holiday to those of us who are mothers. Because—you know—who wouldn't want a day devoted to our children's adoration, from breakfast in bed to Sunday dinner at a fancy restaurant, to say nothing of the cards, flowers, gifts—you name it. A special Christmas just for us.
Except. Except that's not what Mother's Day is supposed to be. In America it was first observed at a special memorial church service held on the second anniversary of Anna Jarvis's mother's death, May 10, 1908, in Grafton, WV.
As you might suspect, though, the holiday actually has ancient connections, from Greece to an old pagan tradition--"English Mothering Day.” A day when children, adult and young, took cakes to their mothers and received a blessing.
Many other countries also celebrate a Mother's Day, not always in May, and sometimes for a different reason. Like in Bolivia, where on May 27th it celebrates a day when women died fighting for independence. In Thailand, it falls on Aug. 12, the queen's birthday.
In America, it goes further back than 1908. The first one was suggested by Julia Ward Howe (“Battle Hymn of the Republic”), in 1872, as a day dedicated to peace. She organized Mother's Day meetings every year in Boston.
Then, in 1877, Mrs. Juliet Calhoon Blakely took over her son's church service (he had abruptly left the pulpit) and called for other mothers to join her. Eventually, her sons urged others to honor their mothers each year on the second Sunday in May.
West Virginia recognized the day in 1910, and in 1914, President Wilson signed a proclamation declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.
From such humble beginnings came an industry estimated to reach a record-high spending of $31.7 billion this year. According to the National Retail Federation, buying cards (75%) tops the list. Cards for just about anyone—mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt, like-a-mother-to-me.
Flowers follow cards (72%), then special outings (57%). Jewelry sits a little further down the list, at #6 (47 %).
It might be noted that Anna Jarvis, who had no children, “spent the rest of her life fighting the holiday's commercial and political exploitation.” She organized boycotts and protests and was actually arrested at one point for disturbing the peace.
But back to my main point. Mother's Day wasn't created by a group of women sitting around saying “I think we need a special day when we get all of the attention and adoration that we deserve for all of the sacrifices we make for our kids all year long.”
Mother's Day is for everyone, because we all have a mother. If she's no longer with us, the day may carry some sadness, but hopefully good memories and gratefulness.
I was always uncomfortable in church on this holiday because it focused so exclusively on the mothers attending. Stand up if you are one. Oldest? Most children? Applaud and distribute flowers.
But what of those without children? Those who silently suffer the heartbreak of wanting children but having none? How does all of this make them feel?
I first became aware of the book “Love You Forever” in about 1990. It wasn't so well known then, but I started using it for a children's Mother's Day sermon that I gave for years. I loved it because I could teach that we all have a mother, so on this day we can all celebrate that fact.
I made up a little tune for the song that the mommy sang. By the fourth repetition, the children could sing it with me. I hope they went home singing it.
This year I will sing the tune to my sixteen-month-old grandson. Of course, now I am the old mother, so I will sort of croak my way through it, but that's okay. My grandson will probably chatter through it, but what a joy!
We like holidays in this country. Or at least, Madison Avenue does. They're good for the economy. We have Daughter's Day, Son's Day, Parent's Day, Grandparent's Day, Children's Day, Father's Day (which will generate an estimated $23.6 billion in spending this year).
None of these has caught on like Mother's Day. And while our relationships with our mothers may be complex, or live now only in our memories, Mother's Day is a time to say “thank you.” And, hopefully, “I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living, [Your baby I'll be]”.