Appearing as a recent phenomenon — promoting the sale of chocolates and greeting cards — Mother’s Day has a rich heritage that carries more history and meaning than we may now recognize.
May 13 will bring about a flurry of tender sentiment accented with flowers and flowery words. The roots of the day, however, run deep.
Fertility and motherhood have been revered in art and ritual since humans began creating a visible record of their civilizations.
Today, virtually every culture has an official day set aside to honor mothers. In England it is called “Mothering Sunday.” In Russia, it is celebrated as part of “International Women’s Day.” In Germany, it is called “Muttertag.”
In other cultures celebration of motherhood may be tied to specific religious or historical figures.
In pre-Shah Iran, during the sixth month of the Muslim calendar, the day is celebrated on the 21st — the birthday anniversary of Fatimah, the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter.
In India, mothers are honored during Durga Ashtami, an event that commemorates the appearance of the feminine consciousness of the cosmos as embodied by the Goddess Durga.
Within Hindu populations in Nepal and elsewhere the day is called “Mata Tirtha Aunshi” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.”
The U.S. celebration began to become formalized first through the work of Julia Ward Howe, who penned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Recognizing the tremendous, devastating loss of life during the U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, Howe worked tirelessly to unite mothers from both sides of the conflicts to bring about peace.
In 1870 she wrote her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” calling for women to join together in support of disarmament. The text of her moving call for peace includes the following:
“... Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
“Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs ... ’”
The American Mother’s Day finally became official in 1914 through the continued work of Anna Jarvis under the legislation of President Woodrow Wilson.
Jarvis later became distressed by the escalating commercialism of Mother’s Day and encouraged others throughout the remainder of her life to return to the deeper meaning of the celebration.