Celebration of the Feminine
From the spring days of Ancient Rome to modern times, people have honoured Mama. Games, goddesses, saints and social workers have honoured the feminine and called on us to remember our mothers. In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise health awareness in her community—a cause best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day". Nowadays, the second Sunday in May (May 14, 2017) is Mother's Day in many countries. Rob Tillett looks at the history and meaning of Mother's Day.
The second Sunday in May (May 14, 2017) is Mother's Day, a day we traditionally set aside for honouring Mother and, from a deeper perspective, the role of the feminine in our lives. What better day could we pick for sending our healing prayers and energy to Mother Earth, the Great Mother that nurtures us all? There are so many mothers on the planet who are suffering today, yet no more than the Earth itself. That is why we are asking all of you, tens of thousands of people around the world, to use May 12th to offer your energy to the healing of all mothers.
Earliest Known Tributes
The earliest known tributes to mothers date back to the annual spring festival the Ancient Greeks dedicated to the great goddess Rhea, wife of Cronus and mother of the Olympians. In fact, all the ancient peoples of Europe, from Ireland to Asia had a Mother Goddess (known widely as Danu, but also under many other names). These celebrations were mirrored in the offerings ancient Romans made to the Great Mother Goddess, Cybele. Ceremonies in her honour began some 250 years before the birth of Christ.
This Roman religious celebration, known as Hilaria Matris Deum, lasted for three days – from March 22 to 25. Its celebration was held on the first day after the vernal equinox, the first day of the year which was longer than the night. The winter with its gloom had passed away, and the first day of a better season was spent in rejoicings. Games and processions were held in her honour. In the British Isles and Celtic Europe, the goddess Brigid, and later her successor St. Brigid, were honoured with a spring Mother's Day, connected with the first milk of the ewes (see Celtic Fire Festivals: Oimelc).
In later times, Christians celebrated this festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent, in honour of Mary, mother of Jesus. During the 1600's England began to celebrate a day called Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Originally, it was a time for visiting one's "mother church" – the church in the town where one hailed from, and people would travel back home to attend – but gradually it came to be a day for honouring one's mother and giving her gifts.
On Mothering Sunday, young apprentices and servants returned home, bringing their mothers flowers, small gifts and keepsakes or a "mothering cake". Mothering Sunday was also known as Refreshment Sunday, because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed that day. Although this is often called "Mother's Day" in the UK, it actually has no direct relation to the US festival of that name.
Modern Mother's Day
In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day".
Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.
In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."
Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favourite flower, the white carnation (which remains popular for modern Mother's Day flowers and bouquets). Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.
The Law of Unintended Consequences?
At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed on the altar of greed and profit.
In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mothers' group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the Mother's Day tradition.
Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honour and to express appreciation of their mothers.
Many other countries also celebrate Mother's Day at this time, including Australia, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey and Belgium, while other nations celebrate their own Mother's Day at different times throughout the year.
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