As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, some may wonder just how this holiday began. The earliest known celebrations of mothers go back to ancient Greece and Rome in honor of the goddesses they worshipped in that day. Also, early Christians in Europe celebrated a festival called “Mothering Sunday” observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent. It was tradition on that day for the faithful to return to their “mother church” for special services. Children would present their mothers with flowers and other tokens of affection. This is where the gift-giving tradition is thought to have started. “Mothering Sunday” merged with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930’s and ‘40’s.
In the U.S., what became Mother’s Day was started in the years before the Civil War, when Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia established “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to help women learn to care for their children. She also established a “Mother’s Friendship Day” in 1868 where mothers gathered with Civil War veterans to promote reconciliation between the north and south. A “Mother’s Peace Day” celebrated on June 2nd was established in 1873 by Julia Ward Howe and the first actual Mother’s Day was celebrated in Albion, Michigan later in the 1870’s.
The official Mother’s Day we celebrate today began in the early 1900’s, and has a Philadelphia connection. Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day after the 1905 death of her mother, to honor the sacrifices mothers make for their children. She gained financial backing from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, owner of the Philly-based department store chain, which is now part of Macy’s.
The first May Mother’s Day was celebrated in 1908 at a special service at Ms Jarvis’ church in Grafton, West Virginia with a simultaneous celebration held at the John Wanamaker store in Center City Philadelphia, where Macy’s Center City is now located. By 1912, Mother’s Day was celebrated in many American cities and towns and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure establishing the 2nd Sunday in May as a national holiday, Mother’s Day.
Though Mother’s Day is now highly commercialized and one of the most profitable holidays of the year for the phone companies, florists and greeting card makers, it remains one of the most popular holidays with people who just want a meaningful way to celebrate and thank their Mothers for all they do. Many celebrate by giving Mom a “day off” from chores, taking her out to dinner and, of course, by giving gifts. Whichever way you celebrate, Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers!