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The Origins of Mother's Day

Have you ever wondered about the origins of Mother's Day? It wasn't invented by a card company! Its history can be traced back to ancient observances honouring motherhood. Celebrate Mother's Day, May 8th 2005 by giving the special mothers in your life a beautiful bouquet of carnations or spring flowers.

Ancient and Medieval Celebrations of Motherhood

“Mother's Day is in honor of the best Mother who ever lived —the Mother of your heart.” —Anna Jarvis

Every May, countries around the world celebrate Mother's Day. Canada, like the United States, Denmark, Italy, Turkey and Australia observe Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May. Other countries such as India, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Singapore celebrate on May 10th.

“Every man for the sake of the great blessed Mother in Heaven, and for the love of his own little mother on earth, should handle all womankind gently, and hold them in all Honour.” —Alfred Lord Tennyson

Celebrations of motherhood date back to the prehistoric ages. Some of the earliest artifacts known show maternal female figures (e.g. the Venus of Willendorf), and are thought to honour the sacredness of motherhood.

“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” —William M. Thackeray

In ancient Greece and Rome, there were many Mother Goddesses such as Rhea, the mother of the gods and goddesses in Greece, Cybele, a Phrygian goddess imported to Rome, Isis, an Egyptian goddess often depicted nursing her son Horus, and Juno, a native Roman goddess. Many of the celebrations that honoured these Mother Goddesses were held during the springtime. At the beginning of March, Juno Lucina as honoured by women in a celebration known as the Matronalia.

“…a temple was founded…on this very day by the Latin matrons in honour of Juno…a crowd of mothers throngs my temple…Say ye, “Thou Lucina, hast bestowed on us the light of life” —Ovid

Mary as mother of Jesus, and the Church as mother of the faithful, were honoured throughout the middle ages.

What are Raphael's Madonnas but the shadow of a mother's love, fixed in a permanent outline forever? — T. W. Higginson

The History of Modern Mother's Day

By the 17th century, England had established the fourth Sunday of Lent as “Mothering Sunday” to honour Mary, the Mother Church and the mothers of England. Special cakes (e.g. simnel cakes, carlings) were made and servants were given the day off and encouraged to spend it with their mothers.

Mothering Sunday In the times before Bank Holidays
Farmer's boys and servant girls
Left the farm or big house early,
Going home for the day
On Mothering Sunday
Though home was miles away,
With flowers for their mother's present
Gathered as they went.

It's different these days:
All you have to do is stop
At the flower shop
With the pocket money you've saved
And the daffodils there
Came by train or even by plane;
But the present still means the same
For the language of flowers doesn't change.
—Stanley Cook

In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, the woman who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, proposes a Mother's Day observance as a way of promoting peace.

What is a Mother
What is a mother?
Who shall answer this?
A mother is a font and spring of life,
A mother is a forest in whose heart
Lies hid a secret ancient as the hills,
For men to claim and take its wealth away;
And like the forest shall her wealth renew
And give, and give again, that men may live.
—Francis Cardinal Spellman

Anna M. Jarvis (1864-1948), is acknowledged as the founder of the official Mother's Day holiday in the United States. The daughter of a pious Sunday school teacher, Anna was 12 years old when her mother told her Sunday school class, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial Mother's Day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers.”

On the anniversary of her mother's death in 1905, her mother's church in Grafton, West Virginia, celebrated Mother's Day. Anna petitioned influential politicians, businessmen, and religious leaders to institute a national Mother's Day holiday. By 1911, Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state. In 1914, the American Congress passed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Ninety-three percent of Canadians believe gift giving for Mother's Day is important � the highest for any gift giving occasion during the year.

Though some are critical of the commercialism surrounding Mother's Day (indeed, Anna Jarvis was one of them), most people appreciate the opportunity Mother's Day gives to honour the contribution of mothers and to express warm feelings and genuine appreciation.

Flowers and Mother's Day

The Romans welcomed the month of May by dedicating the month to Flora, the Roman flower goddess; and spent the first day of May gathering flowers as offerings to her.

Flowers have been associated with Mother's Day celebrations from the beginning. Even in the ancient world, the Mother Goddesses were celebrated with garlands of flowers. Anna Jarvis promoted carnations, the favourite flowers of her mother, as the official Mother's Day flowers. “White carnations were chosen because they represented the sweetness, purity and endurance of mother love. Red carnations, in time, became the symbol of a living mother.” Today, bouquets of cut spring flowers are customary Mother's Day gifts.

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