Mother’s Day: The origins behind celebration

Mother's Day is a celebration to honour and appreciate a woman's devotion to her family.

Mother's Day is a celebration to honour and appreciate a woman's devotion to her family. Photo: Getty

Mother’s Day is a celebration of honouring a mother or a mother-like figure in the household for their influence on society and family values.

The day is often linked to Father’s Day and this year will be celebrated on May 13 in Australia.

The origin of Mother’s Day dates back to ancient times. Despite what people think, the day was not developed by Hallmark as a commercial holiday to sell cards and flowers.

What are the origins of Mother’s Day?

Ancient Roots

The celebrations can be traced back to ancient Greece where people honoured Rhea, wife of Cronus and the mother of the gods.

They would make offerings of honey-cakes and flowers to show their respect for her.

The Romans also had their own mother of the gods. She was called Magna Mater or Great Mother.

Every year in March people would bring offerings to her temple in Rome. The day was widely celebrated and was known as the Festival of Hilaria.

20th Century

In 1905, peace activist Ann Reeves Jarvis died. She cared for wounded soldiers during the American Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues.

It was after her death that her daughter Anna Jarvis started a campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognised holiday in the US. She wanted to honour her mother by continuing her work.

However in 1908, the US Congress rejected a proposal to make the day an official holiday. Despite this, Ms Jarvis still held a memorial for her mother at a church in West Virginia.

A portrait of the founder of Mother's Day Anna Jarvis in the 1900s.

A portrait of the founder of Mother’s Day Anna Jarvis in the 1900s. Photo: Getty

Ms Jarvis continued to fight for the day and in 1911 all US states celebrated Mother’s Day as a holiday.

In 1914, a proclamation was signed to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.

By the 1920’s, Hallmark Cards started selling cards for the day. Ms Jarvis believed that they were exploiting the idea and threatened law suits.

She thought people should show gratitude to their mums in other ways.

By 1925, most people bought cards for the publicised day. This was something Ms Jarvis couldn’t control.

Is Mother’s Day celebrated on different dates around the world?

Yes, Mother’s Day is celebrated on different dates because it is a civil holiday. This means that different countries honour mothers when they think the day is most appropriate,

Most countries like Australia, Canada, China and New Zealand follow the US and celebrate it on the second Sunday of May.

Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Russia and Vietnam, celebrate Mother’s Day on March 8 with International Women’s Day.

In the UK, the date is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent. It is known as Mothering Sunday. On this day in the Middle Ages, people who moved away from home, came back to be with their mothers.

Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania and United Arab Emirates celebrate Mother’s Day on March 21. It coincides with the beginning of the spring equinox.

In Nepal, it is regarded as a holy festival celebrated on a new moon night around late April to early May. The day was picked due to a legend that a grieving man saw his deceased mother’s face in a pond after he prayed.

What is the history behind the spelling of Mother’s Day?

In 1912, Ms Jarvis trademarked the term ‘Mother’s Day’ and ‘Second Sunday in May.’

According to The Vancouver Sun, Ms Jarvis said it should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honour its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”

This spelling was also seen on the proclamation in 1914.

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