Mother’s Day: Origins and History of the Holiday

mother's day

Moms do so much all year long, often without thanks or appreciation, to keep their families healthy and happy. Mother’s Day is a great time to stop and think about everything our moms have done for us and continue to do. It is a day to show them that we do appreciate all the big and little things they do for us. It is also a time to appreciate the role of mothers and motherhood in our culture. The work that mothers do is so important, yet often overlooked. In honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 8, our blog this week explores the historical origins of Mother’s Day and the place of motherhood in society throughout history.

Archaeology has shown that the earliest societies and religions revered motherhood. Statues and figures have been found from as much as 35,000 years ago depicting a mother goddess or Earth Mother. The connection between Mother Earth or Mother Nature and human mothers was common in many ancient and pre-historic cultures.

The Ancient Romans celebrated annual festivals dedicated to the mother goddess Cybele. These festivals were collectively known as the Hilaria and took place each year in March and April. Cybele was also known in Rome as Magna Mater, the Great Mother.

Another historical antecedent to Mother’s Day has been celebrated in the UK and parts of Europe since the 16th century. Mothering Sunday fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was celebrated by both Catholic and protestant churches. The original meaning of the day was to return to one’s “mother church.” This meant the church where a person was born or raised. In the 20th century Mothering Sunday became a day to honor mothers and is now most often called Mother’s Day. It is essentially the same as the American holiday, but it is celebrated in March due to its origins in the church season of Lent.

The American Mother’s Day holiday did not develop directly from any historical festivals or holidays related to motherhood. In fact, it was the brainchild of one woman very determined to honor both her mother and mothers everywhere. West Virginian Anna Jarvis first began lobbying for a national celebration of mothers in 1905, which was the year her own mother passed away. The first Mother’s Day celebration took place in 1908, led by Jarvis herself.

That same year Congress rejected a proposal to create a national holiday for mothers. However, Jarvis continued to lobby for the celebration. By 1911 all states observed Mother’s Day although it still was not a national holiday. It took three more years, but President Woodrow Wilson finally declared Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914.

This official declaration most likely paved the way for the commercialization of the holiday soon after. Hallmark began selling Mother’s Day cards in the 1920s. Candy manufacturers were also quick to jump on the bandwagon as well as florists when carnations became associated with the day. Jarvis herself was not pleased with the commercial success of the holiday, but by this point the celebrations were beyond any one person’s control.

Mother’s Day celebrations have continued in the U.S. and have spread to many countries across the globe. Some celebrate in March as per the Mothering Sunday tradition while many celebrate in May just as America does.

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? Don’t forget to like and share!

Photo: Rodney Campbell
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