“Mothering? What’s that all about?”
by Jon Magee
Somewhere beneath the cards and bouquets of flowers lies an historical and Christian tradition that goes back centuries.
Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday as it is traditionally known in the UK and Ireland, is a day to show love, gratitude and appreciation to all wonderful mums everywhere, through acts of kindness and the giving of Mothers Day gifts and flowers. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day both have different origins; although they represent the same meaning, they originated very differently. We all celebrate the day but very few people actually know its origin. The original meaning of Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day has been somewhat lost but it’s still a day to solely appreciate mum.
Mother’s Day celebrations date back as far as the ancient Greeks where they would celebrate Rhea, the Mother of the gods and goddesses, every spring with festivals of worship. The Romans also celebrated a mother goddess, Cybele, every March as far back as 250BC.
The date varies in different parts of the world. Many countries follow the Americans and celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May, whilst other countries enjoy the day on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day.
Mothering Sunday in the UK began with a religious purpose in the 16th century. Held exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday, which this year was the 30th March, it was originally a day to visit the ‘mother’ church. It was a day when many in domestic service, or apprentices, would be given time off to go home where they would make a point of visiting the mother church whilst with their families. This has, of course, evolved into what we have today; the wild flowers picked by the workers from the country lanes on the way home have continued as an integral part of today’s Mothering Sunday. The gatherings reunited families and gave children who worked as domestic servants, or as apprentices away from home (from as early as ten years old), the opportunity to have the day off to join their family and see their mother.
In more recent years, I can recall my own memories growing up with the annual anticipation of what surprises can be determined for Mothering Sunday. One year when Mothering Sunday was early in March three young boys, my brothers and I, became conscious that we had nowhere enough pocket money to adequately provide appreciation of our mother. However, hope arose as wild flowers were spotted in a nearby wood. On the Sunday morning we got up early, before the sun rose, crept out of the home and made our way toward the wood. It seemed to be so much longer a journey in the dark than we had estimated, but we persevered. Eventually we arrived as the sun was rising. The flowers were still there, and we eagerly began the process of picking them and arranging them into three large bunches before starting the return journey. It was a cold frosty morning as we made our way home, and perhaps with hands also damp from picking the flowers we became more aware of how cold it was. We had a mixture of feelings as young boys, feeling miserable with the cold, yet inwardly delighted with our achievement. As each step home was made, so the ability of those cold hands to grip the flowers became more difficult, and behind us we began to leave a trail of flowers as one by one they fell to the ground. We arrived home to a frantic mother, wondering where her boys had disappeared to, and presented to her our two or three flowers declaring “Happy Mothering Sunday!!” As boys, we were conscious we had not given enough, but as a mother, mum often spoke of that day being special, realising the children were prepared to suffer in the cold to show to her some added appreciation, even if most of the flowers were lost on the way
The US celebrates Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. The holiday was formed much later than Mothering Sunday, and was created in 1908 by a lady named Anna Jarvis from Grafton, West Virginia, in honour of her late mother. Anna Jarvis pushed hard for a holiday to celebrate all mothers after the death of her own, and after lots of hard work, determination and promotion President Woodrow Wilson finally made it an official holiday for the US in 1914.
However, as the holiday grew more and more established it became more and more commercialised much to the disgrace of Anna Jarvis, who named it “Hallmark Holiday”. Jarvis went on to oppose the day and regret what the day had turned into, and she died in 1948 very unhappy with what Mother’s Day had become. Nonetheless, in America Mother’s Day still remains a popular holiday making it one of the biggest days for sales of flowers and cards.
This week is also special for us for another reason that seems appropriate for the time of year. It was 1976 when it was all supposed to happen, but when in 1976 was a more pertinent question. Our second child was expected. Joan had worked out that baby would arrive about the end of March or beginning of April. The doctors, however, corrected her with the news that baby would arrive in February. She had been so sure she was right, but when you are young you know the Doctors always are the ones to trust, and if they said February then that’s what it must be. February came, and still no baby, just the added news from the trusty Doctors that we would be fortunate if baby was more than 5lbs, at the most. It was a leap year, could it be the 29th February? A birthday just once every four years? It was the 5th April that baby arrived as we excitedly declared “Its a girl!” Oh, and what about that small weight? Suzanne arrived well over 8lb. Seems the doctors, great as they are, did not know everything this time.
We became more aware that there are times that there is more to life than we can assume that day. I suppose that’s something, also, of the initial thoughts of Mothering Sunday. Mothers are to be honoured, but the tradition began with the honouring of God who initially gave life, as demonstrated by the people who made a point of attending the Mother Church as they returned to their homes.
Jon Magee is married to Joan, and is the father of 3 daughters and 2 sons, not forgetting 3 wonderful grandaughters and 4 grandsons. He is the published author of 2 books, Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey and From Barren Rocks to Living Stones,and with a wealth of experience writing smaller items for magazines and local newspapers.
America, Motherhood & Apple Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie: an American Tradition
Photo by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0
Writing about Mother’s Day is a challenge. Such phrases as “as American as apple pie” and “mom’s apple pie” would seem to tie love of mothers to American patriotism. Indeed, mom and apple pie were, for many years, the exemplars of Americanism (although I doubt that many mom’s still bake their own). There is an element of truth there, in that the Mother’s Day observed on the second Sunday in May by eighty-one of the one hundred sixty-six nations around the world that observe a mother’s day was brought about by the efforts of an American woman.
Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day
Inspired by honoring her own mother who died in 1905, Anna Jarvis began her efforts to have a day when everyone honored their mothers in 1907. It was almost entirely due to Anna’s efforts that on May 8, 1914, Congress passed the enactment of Mother’s Day as a national holiday to be celebrated on the second Sunday of May. And the rest is history.
Before you protest that honoring mothers was not an American invention, that is not what I am saying. However, having a day so focused on one’s own mother, not sharing it with some goddess like the Greeks and Romans did, is the product of Anna Jarvis. Since 1956, much of the Arab world celebrate it on March 21st, thanks to the efforts of Egypt journalist Mustafa Amin. As to Mothering Sunday observed by my friends across The Pond on the fourth Sunday in Lent, that was originally a time to return to one’s mother (hometown) church, not in honor of one’s biological mother. Still, worldwide May is the predominate month for appreciating mothers, with March a distant second. Interestingly enough, every month except July and September have some country in the world recognizing mothers. Anyone have an idea why those two months don’t like mothers?
Roses are nice, but . . .
Anna Jarvis’ idea for celebrating Mother’s Day (note that it is Mother’s rather than Mothers’, since it was meant to be personal rather than general) was to go to church with your mother, cook her a meal and give her a white carnation. In her words, “Its whiteness is to symbolize the truth, purity and broad-charity of mother love; its fragrance, her memory, and her prayers. The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying. When I selected this flower, I was remembering my mother’s bed of white pinks.” But commercialism quickly hijacked this holiday, as it has so many others.
Within a few years of its inception, flowers, chocolates, cards and dining out were promoted by florists, confectioners, card companies and restaurants. Spending time with, not money on, mothers was Anna’s hope. She wrote, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” Ironically, she died unwed and childless, disappointed with what had become of her holiday.
So, is this a downer for Mother’s Day? Not at all. It’s an exhortation to return to what Anna Jarvis intended Mother’s Day to be. Take heed of her words, make this Mother’s Day more about honoring your mother than placating your conscience by simply sending a card and candy of flowers. I have nothing against those, if they are combined with giving that most precious commodity: time. If at all possible, visit your mother on Mother’s Day. If distance or work makes that impossible, call her. I don’t mean a one-minute cursory call, but talk to her as long as she wants to stay on the phone. Skype her if she is computer savvy. There is no greater gift you can give than your time. She gave that to you for many years, so give a little back to her now. Trust me, next year just might be too late.