For many, the days prior to Mother's Day are spent trying to come up with the perfect gift that is both personal and sentimental, but the act of giving gifts that honor mothers on Mother's Day goes back in history to the ancient Egyptians who had an annual festival honoring the Goddess Isis, who was believed to be the mother of the pharaohs.
In ancient history, cultures such as the Egyptians and Romans celebrated symbols or goddesses who were highly respected, rather than actual mothers or birth givers. The Romans, Greeks and Europeans also celebrated in various religious ways to honor these mother figures. The English were the first to honor mothers in the way that is most familiar to the modern Mother's Day holiday. It was an adaptation from the early European celebration which fell on the fourth Sunday of Lent (the 40 days of fasting prior to Easter Sunday).
Early Christians initially used the day to honor the "Mother Church." The church would be elaborately decorated for the day with flowers and jewels. In the 1600s a clerical decree in England broadened the celebration to include real mothers, earning the name Mothering Day. This special day gave a one day escape from the fasting and penance of Lent so that families across England could enjoy a sumptuous family feast with the mother as the honored guest. Mothers were presented with cakes and flowers, as well as a visit from their beloved and distant children.
When the first English settlers came to America, they discontinued the tradition of Mothering Day, perhaps in part due to the strains for survival placed on them in the New World. Not until 1870, nearly two centuries later, did the North American's most modern ideal of Mother's Day become a proclamation.
Julia Ward Howe, writer of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," had became so upset by the widespread death of young men during the Civil War, she asked mothers of killed or wounded soldiers to join together and protest son's killing sons. The common thread being, regardless of whether Blue or Grey, each soldier was a son to a mourning mother. Howe wrote a proclamation, calling for an international Mother's Day.
By 1872, women's groups began to celebrate the holiday in 18 cities in America. Howe provided funding for many of the celebrations and after she stopping paying for the holiday many cities stopped the celebration. Within 10 years the idea of a national Mother's Day failed to be recognized.
A women's group from West Virginia led by Anna Reeves Jarvis began to celebrate Howe's Mother's Day in an effort to reunite families who had been separated by the evils of the Civil War. Mother's Friendship Day was an annual event until Jarvis died and in 1908 her daughter campaigned to create the first officially recognized Mother's Day, in remembrance of her own mother and in the honor of peace.
The first recognized Mother's Day celebration was held May 10, 1908, at Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, W.Va. All mothers were adorned with two carnations. Today white carnations are used in honor of mothers who have died and red and pink carnations are for mothers who are still living. The United States government adopted the celebration of Mother's Day as a national holiday in 1914 when U.S. Congress approved the holiday and President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation setting the second Sunday in May as the official Mother's Day.
Despite Jarvis' realized vision of the holiday being nationally recognized, the intent of the day was never meant to include the commercialism that has become synonymous with Mother's Day. In 1923, Jarvis sued to stop a Mother's Day event due to commercialism and the perceived exploitation of the meaning of the day. Jarvis was even arrested for protesting the sale of flowers at an American War Mothers group and later petitioned against the United States Postal Service's stamp with a white carnation with the word "Mother's Day" written on it.
She did manage to get the name removed but the reverend white carnation remained. She spent the rest of her life attempting to end the commercialism and the floral industry's exploitation of the holiday. Jarvis died very poor, blind and without children. She would never live to know that the Florist Exchange was responsible for footing the bill for her health care. At the time of her death over 40 countries observed the Mother's Day holiday.
Mother's Day does continue to be highly commercialized despite its original intention. The National Retail Foundation statistics state that the holiday is a $14 billion industry. Florists see the highest sales during this holiday, and for restaurants, Mother's Day is their busiest day of the year.
To mothers, that is $14 billion spent towards letting them know they are special. Though the money is obviously spent with good intention, most mothers would be content with a visit with their children, or something that doesn't have to be costly.
It doesn't matter how one chooses to spend the day with their mother. Whether it's cooking at home, treating her to a great dinner at a nice restaurant, showering her with gifts, flowers and candy or simply writing her a letter and letting her know how much she's loved, it is a very special day to honor those who not only have given life, but also those who may not be biological mothers but have also experienced the joys and sorrows of motherhood through their beloved children.