Why We Celebrate Mother’s Day

As you know, this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. As you ponder what you can do to show your mother you care, you might think about the origins of Mother’s Day, and why we celebrate it. Many countries around the world have designated a day, usually in the spring (although some celebrate other times), to celebrate the contributions of mothers.

In the ancient world, mothers were honored and revered in cultures that worshiped mother goddesses. In ancient Rome and Greece, elements of some festivals — especially spring fertility festivals — included ways of honoring mothers. Early questions combined celebrations of women with their observance of a day in honor of the Virgin Mary during Lent. In England, Mothering Sunday celebrations began in the 1600s.

However, today’s celebrations bear little resemblance to some of the efforts to honor women in the past. Here are some of origins of modern Mother’s Day:

In the United States and Western World

Julia Ward Howe offered one of the earliest calls for a Mother’s Day in 1870. She believed that women should be involved in society and in politics, working for a more peaceful world. International Women’s Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1909, and to this day, falls on March 8. Some countries choose to celebrate mothers on this day, in lieu of having an actual day specifically meant to honor mothers.

Anna Jarvis was another early support of Mother’s Day. She began campaigning for national recognition early on, before the U.S. recognized International Women’s Day. Jarvis was so insistent on Mother’s Day, that she set up the Mother’s Day International Association and trademarked “second Sunday in May.” She was also very clear that it should be “Mother’s” Day, and not “Mothers.'” It was important to Jarvis that each family honor a specific mother.

Other countries adopted the U.S. holiday of Mother’s Day, deciding to use the designation of the second Sunday in the month of May. However, plenty of other countries set dates around their own holidays, or around other events. Some heavily Catholic countries honor their mothers on a Virgin Mary day. Others set the date around significant events, such as Bolivia’s decision to set the date as May 27, to commemorate a major battle in which women participated during the Bolivian War of Independence during 1812. The Spanish army slaughtered the women who had joined the army to help fight for independence, and the day was made a holiday in 1927.

In Germany, the holiday was used to promote the ideals of motherhood. Many saw the holiday as a way to promote childbearing, since Germany’s population had been declining in the first part of the 20th century. In the mid to late 1920s, locally-originated subsidies were even offered to large families and families presided over by a single more. Even the Nazi party got in the act, and put the holiday under national control, which created some resentment amongst those who did not accept the guidelines the party presented for Mother’s Day. Today, though, Germany celebrates Mother’s Day much like other European countries, and marks the day as the second Sunday in May.

The Arab World and Mother’s Day

One of the main agitators for Mother’s Day in the Arab world was Mustafa Amin. The story is that he thought it would be a nice idea (he mentioned in a book he wrote, Smiling America, in 1943), but didn’t really start campaigning until he heard a story of a widow who raised her son. The woman sacrificed so that her son could become a doctor. When he achieved success and married, he left her alone, showing her no gratitude. Amin found this appalling, and campaigned to have a Mother’s Day held in Egypt. The first official Mother’s Day in Egypt was held in 1956, and other Arab countries soon adopted the celebration of the holiday.




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