Where Did It Come From? What’s It All About?
Mother’s Day is nothing new. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all celebrated motherhood, usually setting aside a time each spring for doing so. Instead of honoring their human mothers, though, they focused their celebration on honoring the female gods they worshiped.
During the 1600s the church in England began designating one of the Sundays in Lent as “Mothering Sunday.” On that day, apprentices, indentured servants, and other poor workers were allowed to leave their duties and return home to visit their mothers. In addition to a sumptuous meal, mothers received small gifts of flowers and cakes.
As they moved to North America, early settlers left the custom of “Mothering Sunday” behind. However, the idea of honoring mothers was not lost. In 1872, Julia Ward Howe (who had written “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” a decade or so earlier during the U.S. Civil War) suggested a national Mother’s Day observance as a way to reunite the nation and enlist mothers in preventing future wars. While 18 cities did observe a June 2 Mother’s Day for Peace several years in a row, most stopped their observances when Howe stopped funding the events. Boston, though, continued its celebration for 10 years.
Anna Reeves Jarvis, a contemporary of Howe, initiated Mother’s Work Day observances in West Virginia during the Civil War as a way to improve public sanitation for both sides. After the war ended, she continued to focus on Mother’s Day as a way to help those who had fought in the Civil war to reconcile with one another.
Two years after Jarvis’s death in 1905, her daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, began a letter-writing campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. Her hope was that children would better appreciate their mothers while they were still alive.
In 1907, Anna’s church in Grafton, West Virginia, celebrated Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May (the anniversary of Ann Reeves Jarvis’s death). By 1909, 46 states were observing Mother’s Day in early May. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation announcing that the nation would officially celebrate Mother’s Day “as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
On Mother’s Day, we honor our own mothers, grandmothers, and other women who have played an important role in our lives. Many families gather for a meal, gift-giving, and reminiscing. We thank God for the blessings he has given us through our mothers. In recent years, many churches have expanded their celebrations to honor all women present on Mother’s Day.