For most moms, the second Sunday in May is all about breakfast in bed, handmade gifts and fresh flowers. But Mother’s Day has its roots in ancient Egyptian and Roman pagan celebrations. It got its start in the US nearly a century and a half ago as a day that brought mothers together in peace against war. Only later did it become the holiday we know and love today.
Egyptian Goddess Isis (Photo Credit: Thinkstock)
Celebrating mothers goes all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians, who celebrated Isis, the mother of all pharaohs, in an annual festival. According to the legend, Isis became a mother when she impregnated herself by reassembling her dead husband’s body and implanting it within her womb.
The Ancient Romans celebrated Cyblele, a.k.a. Magna Mater (Great Mother) with parades and races, on April 10th. Extreme worshipers of Cybele took part in a special ceremony known as the taurobolium, which involved being drenched in the blood of a sacrificed bull.
England celebrates Mothering Sunday on the Laetare Sunday, a practice that historians believe originates from the 16th century Christian tradition of visiting your church of origin. On that fourth Sunday of Lent, housemaids, servants and apprentices would have visited not only their mother church, but also their mothers.
Social activist and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, distressed by the casualties of the Civil War, was the first to call for an official Mother’s Day in the United States. In her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870, she urged mothers to band together in peace and opposition to war: “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.” A noted pacifist and suffragist, Howe is also the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Her own mother had died after giving birth to her seventh child.
It wasn’t until 1914 that Mother’s Day was proclaimed an official holiday by President Woodrow Wilson, thanks to the efforts of Anna Jarvis, who hoped to honor the social activism of her own dear mother. The elder Jarvis had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs that raised money to supply medicine for the sick, provided home help for mothers suffering from tuberculosis, and volunteered to nurse wounded Union and Confederate soldiers with neutrality.
Later, Anna Jarvis, disappointed that Mother’s Day had become a “Hallmark” holiday and nothing more, protested the holiday that she had created. “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit… A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Jarvis explained. “And candy! You take a box to your Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”
Anna Jarvis’s protests consumed her life. She took to the courts to stop a Mother’s Day event in 1923. She went to jail for rallying against the sale of flowers (white carnations had become a popular symbol of the holiday) at an American War Mothers event a decade later. The driven dissident even fought to copyright the term “Mother’s Day” and had her mother’s image removed from a Mother’s Day-themed postage stamp. But Mother’s Day continued to grow in popularity. Anna Jarvis spent her considerable inheritance in this losing battle, never marrying or having children. She died in 1948, blind, penniless and alone.
(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)
These days Mother’s Day is celebrated around the world with flowers and sweets. In Japan, Mother’s Day originally honored mothers who had lost children at war. Today, Japanese children give their mothers carnations to celebrate their love. In France, children traditionally make their mother a flower-shaped cake. In the United Kingdom, children bake their mothers a fruitcake and present her with a bouquet of daffodils.
Let us know how you celebrate Mother’s Day in the comment section below.