A Carnation for Mother - The Story of Mother’s Day

“God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers” - Jewish Proverb

Mother’s Day is celebrated in locales all over the globe. It is known by differing names and on differing dates around the world, but there is one thing which is common to all; the general consensus around the world is that the earliest observances of Mother’s Day involved mother worship in ancient Greece. These earliest spring rites honored Rhea, mother to the Greek deities. The ancient Romans celebrated their version of the day by calling it the Hilaria. On the Ides of March (March 15th. Remember Julius Caesar?) the Romans made their offerings to Cybele, the mother of the Roman gods. Many years later, early Christians honored the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

By the 1600s, the people of England expanded the celebration to encompass all mothers, calling the observance “Mothering Sunday.” This, too, was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. A special dessert, a simnel cake, was served to the mothers.

During this era, Mother’s Day observances trickled over to England’s poor, many of whom were employed as servants of the affluent. The servants generally lived at their employer’s house, as their own were usually too far away for a daily or even a weekly commute. On Mothering Sunday, the domestics were urged to return home so that they could spend the day with their mothers. They often brought to their mothers a special cake called the “mothering cake, to make the day more joyous.

An embryonic Mother’s Day made its first appearance in the United States around the mid-1850s. Mrs. Anna M. Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker,organized a day dedicated to raising awareness of poor health conditions in her area of the Appalachians. She believed mothers would be the best advocates for this cause; Jarvis named the day “Mother’s Work Day.” An alternate school of thought suggested Jarvis organized women throughout the Civil War years to bring about improvement in sanitary conditions on both sides of the conflict. In 1868, Mrs. Jarvis began to work towards ways for reconciliation between Confederate and Union neighbors.

However, the next Mother’s Day celebrations did not pop their heads up for almost 20 years. In 1872, Julia Ward Howe (She wrote the words for the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.) urged the powers that be to make the day a call for pacifism and disarmament by women. She went on to organize Mother’s Day meetings in Boston, Massachusetts each year. These very early meetings were for groups of mothers whose male children had fought or were killed in the name of the two opposing armies of the American Civil War. As the practice of Mother’s Day activities spread, the priorities shifted from pacifism and reform movements to a general appreciation of mothers.

Upon Mrs. Jarvis’ death, her daughter, also named Anna, plied her energies towards founding a memorial day for all women. Her efforts bore fruit when the first such Mother’’s Day was observed in Grafton, West Virginia, on May 10, 1908, in the church where Mrs. Jarvis had taught Sunday School.>

Mrs. Jarvis’ favorite flower was the white carnation; for the first church service in honor of her mother, Miss Anna brought 500 white carnations, to be given to each mother there. The younger Jarvis felt that white carnations were the embodiment of sweetness, purity, and endurance.

The custom of observing this day caught on, in due course, reaching 45 states. Some states declared Mother’s Day as a holiday as early as 1912; however, in 1910, the governor of West Virginia had declared the second Sunday in May to be observed as Mother’s Day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the day to be the first national observance of Mother’’s Day; he was enthusiastic in making it a day on which American citizens could display the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had given their lives in war (with emphasis on The Great War, later to be known as World War I).

Along with national enthusiasm for this special day came the undesirable aftereffect of crass commercialism throughout the country. Alarmed about the blatant quest for profit, feeding off of Mother’s Day, Miss Anna Jarvis became a fervent opponent of the day she had created. She was responsible for litigation against a 1923 Mother’s Day event; Jarvis was even arrested for disturbance of the peace at a convention where white carnations were being vended to raise funds for a war mother’s group. Ironically, Jarvis never married nor had any children, creating a conflict of emotions within herself versus becoming a mother to be honored. Turning into an increasingly bitter soul, Jarvis ultimately lost everything material, as well as her friends, spending her final days in a sanatorium where she died in 1948.

The red carnation became the official Mother’s Day flower even though Miss Anna had originally given out white carnations. Traditionally, if your mother is alive, give her a red carnation. If your mother has passed on, some people like to leave white carnations at their tombstones to honor their memories.

Besides carnations, see many more great Mother's Day gift ideas in the Niftykitchen.com Gift Shop and throughout Niftykitchen.com.

©2007 Terry Kaufman for Niftykitchen.com
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