In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day in the United States, declaring that mothers are a nation’s greatest source of strength and inspiration.
All cultures celebrate motherhood and its different aspects. Some celebrate fertility and birth, others devotion and sacrifice, or courage and wisdom. However, all agree that mothers, given their role within the family and society, can shape a people. Mother’s Day, celebrated today in many parts of the world, is associated with the story of two Christian American women who wished to apply this simple command of God: “Honour your father and mother.” As we celebrate moms, let us remember the story of Ann Jarvis and her daughter Anna, and the intent behind “Mother’s Day”.
Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis would often share with her daughter Anna her desire to have a special day, in the country, which would be dedicated to celebrating mothers and their contribution to society. In Ann’s opinion, the women of her day had a special vision of the value of life, not only because they gave birth, but also because they then had to overcome numerous bereavements (children dying at a young age, loss of husbands, brothers, fathers and sons in wars). Ann advocated for better sanitary conditions in cities, and for an end to the horrors of the American Civil War. She herself had lost several children at a young age, which led her to organize women’s meetings called “Mother’s Day Work Clubs”, in order to raise awareness regarding poor health and hygiene conditions, which increased the risk of infant mortality. Club members formed teams that offered medication and care for the needy, and then, when the war came, took care of wounded soldiers, on either side.
In 1868, Ann Marie organized an event she had had in mind for a long time: Mothers’ Friendship Day, during which families were encouraged to honour their mother and show her the love and gratitude she deserved.
“Anna established the custom of offering one’s mother a simple token of love and gratitude, such as white or colored carnations.”
Anne Marie died in 1905, and her daughter Anna decided to honour her mother’s memory by continuing her work of encouraging people to celebrate their mother and promote peace and health in society. In 1908, Anna managed to convince the members of her church to designate the anniversary of her mother’s death, the second Sunday of May, as the day to celebrate mothers.
At this annual celebration, Anna wanted to honour all mothers, and especially her own, and remember the cause of peace and action against poverty she had stood for. Anna also established the custom of offering one’s mother a simple token of love and gratitude, such as white or colored carnations. Later on, with the support of friends, she launched an awareness campaign targeting ministers, businessmen, politicians and other influential people, in order to institute Mother’s Day as a national event. Her love for her mother, her work and her perseverance were rewarded six years later, when Mother’s Day was instituted as an American national celebration, on the second Sunday of May.
Little by little, other countries adopted Mother’s Day as a national holiday, where people offer their mother a token of their gratitude and recognition.
“Anna Jarvis was saddened to such a degree that towards the end of her life, she regretted having initiated this celebration, feeling that Mother’s Day had become a day of profit-making rather than a day of expressing one’s love and gratitude.”
Anna Jarvis did not like the fact that the celebration had become a commercial event: she had intended to establish a special day when everyone would spend time with his or her mother and shower her with honour, both at church and at home. She was saddened to such a degree that towards the end of her life, she regretted having initiated this celebration, feeling that Mother’s Day had become a day of profit-making rather than a day of expressing one’s love and gratitude.
Such is human nature, always seeking its own interests; if we are not careful, we can forget or alter the original idea of a celebration. Let us thank God that in Him, our nature is transformed and we can bring pleasure to Him. A mother’s children are her legacy, a sign of God’s honour. God also wishes for children to honour their mother. This pleases Him, and it is the only command accompanied by a promise: “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
This Sunday, as we celebrate our mothers, let us honour them: let us spend time with them in the House of the Lord and within our family; let us write to them, let us give them gifts as an expression of our love. In this, God delights.