In the United States, Mother’s Day is an annual holiday celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day recognizes mothers, motherhood and maternal bonds in general, as well the positive contributions that they make to society.
Although many Mother’s Day celebrations world-wide have quite different origins and traditions, most have now been influenced by the more recent American tradition established by Jarvis. Traditions on this day include churchgoing, the distribution of carnations, and family dinners.
The modern holiday was established by Ann Jarvis, who celebrated it for the first time in 1908, then campaigned to make it an official holiday. Previous attempts at establishing Mother’s Day in the United States sought to promote peace by means of honoring mothers who had lost or were at risk of losing their sons to war.
The holiday has been heavily commercialized by advertisers and traders, and is now a big business.
In 1868, Ann Jarvis created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day” whose purpose was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War”, and she wanted to expand it into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular. Her daughter Anna Jarvis would continue her mother’s efforts.
In its present form, Mother’s Day was established by Anna Marie Jarvis, with the help of Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker following the death of her mother Ann Jarvis on May 9, 1905. A small service was held on May 12, 1907 in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia where Anna’s mother had been teaching Sunday school. But the first “official” service was on May 10, 1908 in the same church, accompanied by a larger ceremony in the Wanamaker Auditorium in the Wanamaker’s store on Philadelphia. The next year the day was reported to be widely celebrated in New York.
On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and requesting a proclamation. On May 9, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.
Carnations have come to represent Mother’s Day, since Anna Jarvis delivered 500 of them at its first celebration in 1908. Many religious services held later adopted the custom of giving away carnations. This also started the custom of wearing a carnation on Mother’s Day.
Commercialization and the Death of Anna Jarvis
Commercialization of the U.S. holiday began very early, and only nine years after the first official Mother’s Day had became so rampant that Mother’s Day founder Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become, spending all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration. She decried the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and she finally said that she “…wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control …” She died later that year.
However, Mother’s Day is now one of the most commercially successful American occasions, having become the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant in the United States and generating a significant portion of the U.S. jewelry industry’s annual revenue, from custom gifts like mother’s rings. Americans spend approximately $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 billion on pampering gifts—like spa treatments—and another $68 million on greeting cards.
To all Mothers out there of all kinds of children (my children are all dogs), I wish you ALL a “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY”