Throughout history, mothers have been honored as goddesses or through festivals of celebration, usually in the springtime, recognizing the rebirth of the land and the beginning of the most fertile time of year.
The modern version of Mother’s Day is traced to 17th century England, when the fourth Sunday of Lent was named “Mothering Sunday.” Rules about fasting and penance were suspended and grown children were given the day off from their jobs, often as tradesmen or domestics in other towns, to return home. They traditionally brought treats of sweets and wild flower bouquets to their mothers.
In contrast, the early English settlers in the colonies did not approve of secular holidays and Mothering Sunday did not catch on.
The American version of Mother’s Day was a very different animal indeed. It was born in the aftermath of the Civil War as a rallying cry for women worldwide to oppose war and fight for social justice.
Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet and author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” wrote a poem in 1870 entitled, “A Mother’s Day Proclamation” with the opening line, “Arise then women of thy day” and ended with, “We, the women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure others.”
Howe was also a well-known abolitionist who was still grieving over the losses in the Civil War and angry at the Franco-Prussian War. She had her poem translated into many languages and spent two full years travelling the globe rallying the world’s women to rise up and unite for peace.
Because of Ms. Howe, many New England communities organized Mother’s Day gatherings that were grounded in faith, feminism and protest—a far cry from Hallmark, brunch and carnations.
In a parallel effort, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a West Virginian Methodist and social activist, organized Mother’s Day Work clubs in hopes of educating poor women about health and hygiene.
In homage to her work, Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, devoted much of her adult life to having Mother’s Day declared a national holiday. On May 10, 1908, the first religious service for Mother’s Day was held in Jarvis’ home church in Grafton, W.Va., followed by an afternoon service in her daughter’s church in Philadelphia.
Anna Jarvis sent 500 carnations to the West Virginia church, thus creating a now long-standing tradition of flower gifts.
Finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the holiday official by declaring the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day.
But, after seeing her day turn into a commercial goldmine, Ms. Jarvis called for a boycott of the day she inspired.
Father’s Day did not have roots of peace or protest, rather ones of fairness.
In 1910, after listening to a Mother’s Day sermon, Sonora Dodd of Washington State asked her pastor to also honor her father, who was a widow raising six children on his own. Like Ms. Jarvis, Dodd spent years promoting it and sought the help of the tobacco and tie industries to advance her cause. The idea did not catch on as many objected to the demonstrated commercialization of the very popular Mother’s Day.
Bills were introduced as early as 1913 to make Father’s Day a national holiday, but it only came to fruition in 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed the bill declaring Father’s Day a national holiday.
Approximately $20 billion is spent on mom each year with flowers, candy, perfume and beauty services the most popular gifts. About half as much is spent on dad with ties, gift cards and automotive accessories the most gifted items.
Mother’s Day is the largest card-sending holiday, the most popular day of the year to dine out and a quarter of all the flowers sold yearly are purchased for Mother’s Day.
Why the spending differential? The folks surveyed seem to think the holiday means more to moms than dads.
As a caution for our upcoming honor to dad, on June 15, the surveys say he does not want that extra tie or dreaded No. 1 Dad t-shirt, rather dinner, a bar-b-que or a sports or amusement outing.
Either day is an opportunity to take time out to stop and just say thank you, the nicest tradition of all.