The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day in the United States and many other countries, including Denmark, Italy, Venezuela, Turkey, Australia, and Japan. There have been ancient festivals in the spring, the season of fertility, from Greek and Roman times, with wild celebrations, dancing, drinking and revelry. As Europe transitioned to Christianity, the Church set aside the fourth Sunday of Lent as a day to celebrate the Virgin Mary, and for people to honor their “mother church.” From the 1600s, families in Britain were encouraged to get together, and servants or workers were allowed one day off work to visit their mothers, since they often worked on separate estates and rarely got to see each other. Mothering Day was also declared an exception to the fasting and penance of Lent, so that families could have a feast together.
When the pilgrims came to America, they celebrated few holidays. Mother’s Day was reintroduced to America in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, who wanted to set aside a day of protest after the Civil War, in which mothers could come together and protest their sons killing other mothers’ sons. The woman who created the US Mother’s Day was Anna Jarvis, a schoolteacher who lived with her mother most of her life. Her mother had held Mother’s Friendship Days to reunite families and neighbors separated during the war, and when she died (on the second Sunday of May 1905), Anna worked to proclaim an official Mother’s Day to honor her mother and celebrate peace. In 1908, she passed out 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) at St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, one for each mother in the congregation. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother’s Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson and Congress made it a national holiday.
Quickly, Mother’s Day became commercialized, especially by florists. Anna Jarvis was furious. She said, “What will you do to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest, and truest movements and celebrations?” But flower sales and card sales continued to grow. She also said, “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She was against the selling of flowers, and she called greeting cards “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.” Nevertheless, Mother’s Day has become one of the best days of the year for florists. When Anna Jarvis lived the last years of her life in nursing home in poverty, her bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist’s Exchange.
It’s the biggest day of the year for long-distance telephone calls. And the second biggest gift giving holiday after Christmas. In the last U.S. Census, there were an estimated 82.8 million mothers in this country, and about 96 percent of American consumers spend money for Mother’s Day.
In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde wrote: “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
Many authors, poets and writers have depended upon their mothers for inspiration, as well as support.
Flannery O’Connor returned home after she was diagnosed with lupus. She wrote many of her short stories sitting on her mother’s front porch.
Gustave Flaubert moved in with his mother after traveling, and it was her provincial life in the suburbs that provided background for his novel Madame Bovary.
Hunter S. Thompson was supported by his mother after being fired from several jobs –this gave him the freedom to freelance, and it was an article about the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang that made his career.
When the novelist William Maxwell was 10 years old, his mother died during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Maxwell wrote, “It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it … the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away.” He later said that every book he wrote was an attempt to capture that experience. He was once asked in an interview what he would say to his mother if he could talk to her. He replied, “I would say, ‘Here are these beautiful books that I made for you.'”
George Bernard Shaw went to London with his mother to London when he was 20. His mother supported him with her job as a music teacher. It was 10 years before he began to make a living as a critic and playwright. He later said, “My mother worked for my living instead of preaching that it was my duty to work for hers; therefore take off your hat to her…”
Mark Twain said, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.”