You’ve likely been celebrating Mother’s Day as long as you can remember, first, as a child, and then as the guest of honor – the mother. We all have our own family customs and traditions that make this day memorable, but do you know how the holiday day originally came about?
Mothers have been celebrated for thousands of years, with the earliest commemorations dating back to ancient Greek festivities honoring Rhea, the Mother of the Gods and Goddesses of Olympia. Ancient Romans also hosted days of worship devoted to Cybele, their version of the mother goddess.
More than 400 years ago, Christians in England designated a day to honor Mary, the mother of Christ. This holiday was later expanded to include all mothers and renamed Mothering Sunday. Servants were given this special day off, often taking a “mothering cake” home with them as a special sweet something to enjoy with their families. Mothering Sunday was celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent.
Fast-forward several centuries and across the pond to America, where an Appalachian mother named Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis kicked off the first version of Mother’s Day – Mothers Friendship Day. Jarvis worked tirelessly to improve sanitary conditions in the U.S. after the Civil War and to unite neighbors on both sides of the issue. She hosted Mothers Friendship Circles where she taught the basics of nursing and sanitation, likely saving the lives of thousands of Americans.
Another version of Mother’s Day was inspired by Julia Ward Howe. The author of the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Howe was devastated by the loss of life on the American Civil War and the Franco Prussian Wars. Her crusade for peace included an appeal to the mothers everywhere to rise against war and protect the children of the world. At the 1872 Woman’s Peace Congress in London, Howe presented the idea for a Mother’s Day for Peace, to take place on June 2. The holiday would be observed annually, in honor of peace, motherhood, and womanhood, for the next decade, but died out when Howe turned her attention to women’s rights.
Enter Anne Marie Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, Anna. Anna took care of her mother during her older years and missed her mother after she passed. In her mother’s honor, Anna began a campaign for a national holiday honoring mothers living and dead, writing letters to ministers, businessmen, and congressmen outlining her intention. Her dreams came true on May 9, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson officially issued a Presidential proclamation declaring the 2nd Sunday in May to be the Mother’s Day we celebrate to this day.
Thanks to the work of these women, and many others, more than 80 countries around the world celebrate the mothers in their lives with a special day dedicated just for them. This year, we wish mothers everywhere a special day of peace, love, joy, and family!