History of Mother’s Day

Contrary to popular belief, Mother's Day was not created by a bunch of hotshot business people working for a card company. Mother’s Day actually has a very rich and well-established history.

Gods and Mothers
The celebration of mothers has been traced back as far as Ancient Greece. Although the focus wasn’t on one’s own mother, the Greeks paid tribute to Rhea, the mother of all gods, as part of their spring celebrations.

Similar to Rhea, the Romans had Magna Mater as their mother of all gods. Every March, the Romans would bring gifts to Magna Mater’s temple in Rome. This celebration was known as the Festival of Hilaria.

In the 1600s, England began to celebrate Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Many people at this time were employed as servants who lived in their employer’s home, often far from their parents. On Mothering Sunday, servants would be given the day off so that they could visit their home and spend time with their mother. There was even a mothering cake that people would take with them to make the day even more special.

Peace Time
In the United States, Mother’s Day originally began in 1872 as a day for peace. Organized by Julia Ward Howe (the same Julia Ward Howe who wrote the lyrics to "Battle Hymn of the Republic"), annual meetings were held in Boston, Massachusetts to mark women’s contributions to peace and social actions.

While many women participated in these rallies, few men were particularly interested in what went on and eventually the meetings ceased. However, this didn’t stop Howe from continuing to crusade for peace, who went on to head the American branch of the Woman’s International Peace Association.

Remembering One Very Special Mother
Mother’s Day as we know it is generally credited as the idea of Anna Jarvis. Anna’s mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, was very active in a number of social organizations that looked to help the sick and the poor. Anna was very close to her mother and, upon Mrs. Jarvis death, Anna decided to take action and honor her.

In 1908, Anna organized a memorial service at her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia. This service was held on the anniversary of her mother’s death, the second Sunday in May. Shortly thereafter, Anna, along with people who supported her cause, began a letter-writing campaign. Writing to ministers, politicians and businessmen, Anna encouraged everyone to celebrate Mother’s Day.

By 1911, almost every state celebrated Mother’s Day in some way. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, thereby making it a national holiday. The white carnation was originally chosen as the official flower for Mother’s Day, as this was Mrs. Jarvis’ favorite flower. Later, the red carnation became the appropriate Mother’s Day flower, while the white carnation came to signify that one’s mother had died.

Mother’s Day Gifts
When Anna began Mother’s Day, she felt that it should be a day to appreciate mothers while they’re still alive. As such, people were encouraged to spend time with their mother, write their mother a letter and attend church. However, it did not take long for the commercialism of the day to take over. Anna herself was much disgusted at this, saying "I wanted a day of sentiment, not profit."

Even the name of the day evolved over time. Originally, it was known as Mothers’ Day and was a day for all mothers to gather and be politically and socially active. Today, it is known as Mothers Day, signifying the celebration of the individual service of mothers to their families.

Mother’s Day Elsewhere in the World
While Mother’s Day is celebrated throughout the world, it is not always celebrated at the same time. In the United States and Canada, Mother’s Day is always observed on the second Sunday of May. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Japan also mark Mother’s Day on this date. Here are some days when other nations celebrate Mother’s Day:

  • Spain and Portugal: December 8 (this date coincides with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates the Virgin Mary)
  • Norway: Second Sunday in February
  • Great Britain: Fourth Sunday of Lent
  • South Africa: First Sunday in May
  • Mexico, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates: May 10
  • France and Sweden: Last Sunday in May