In spite of what you may think, Mother's Day was not conceived by the major greeting card companies. The earliest tributes to mothers date back to the annual spring festival the Greeks dedicated to Rhea, the mother of many deities, and to the offerings ancient Romans made to their Great Mother of Gods, Cybele. Christians celebrated this festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honour of Mary, mother of Christ. In England this holiday was expanded to include all mothers and was called Mothering Sunday.
The earliest Mother's Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. During the 1600's, England celebrated a day called "Mothering Sunday". Celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent. "Mothering Sunday" honoured the mothers of England.
During this time many of the England's poor worked as servants for the wealthy. As most jobs were located far from their homes, the servants would live at the houses of their employers. On Mothering Sunday the servants would have the day off and were encouraged to return home and spend the day with their mothers. A special cake, called the mothering cake, was often brought along to provide a festive touch. Sons and daughters who were apprenticing returned to their homes with gifts for Mom: small knicknacks, nosegays of wild flowers and violets, and little cakes.
Someimes the English "mum" received frumenty, a sweetened dish of wheat cooked with milk and spices. Scottish moms were offered little pancakes, called Carlins, made from pease porridge fried in butter and seasoned with salt and pepper.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe the celebration changed to honour the "Mother Church" - the spiritual power that gave them life and protected them from harm. Over time the church festival blended with the Mothering Sunday celebration. People began honouring their mothers as well as the church.
In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day."
Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.
In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."
Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honour mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favourite flower, the white carnation. Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.
At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mother's group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the mother's day tradition.
Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honour and to express appreciation of their mothers.
Though there are many countries that adopt the U.S. tradition and recognize Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May, including South Africa, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, and Belgium, there are those that have chosen other dates throughout the year. Some countries have special ceremonies as a tribute to mothers.
Families in Portugal and Spain recognise Mom on December 8 in church with special prayers to the Virgin Mary and a concert afterward.
Japanese tradition has children between 6 and 14 years old honouring their mother by entering a contest with a drawing of their mom. Mexico celebrates on May 10 with a mass at a shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe who symbolises motherhood.
France heralds the last Sunday in May as Mother's Day with a special family dinner. Sweden celebrates mom on the last Sunday in May. There, the Swedish Red Cross uses money from the sale of little plastic flowers to treat mothers encumbered with many children to a well-deserved vacation.