Yesterday Mother’s Day was celebrated across most of the world, including Singapore. Given what is currently happening worldwide, you may or may not have been able to celebrate it with your own mother since many countries worldwide are still under a lockdown. But this day is not just to celebrate a mother, it can also be used to celebrate maternal bonds and this can be any woman who has had a strong influence in your life.
Today, what we celebrate as Mother’s Day began in the United States, at the initiative of Anna Jarvis in the early 20th century. In 1908, Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. But she had begun campaigning for the day to be recognised since 1905 when her mother Ann Reeves Jarivis passed away. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. So Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.
In 1908, the U.S. Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday, but because of Anna Jarvis’s efforts, by 1911 all the US states observed the holiday, with some of them officially recognizing Mother’s Day as a local holiday. In 1914, the then US President, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers. By the 1920s, the day had become quite commercialised with Hallmark and other companies selling Mother’s Day cards and gifts. Jarvis became resentful with this development and believed that these companies had misinterpreted and exploited her idea of the day and that the day should emphasise on the sentiment and not on profit. As a result, she started to organise boycotts of Mother’s Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the companies involved. She believed that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards. She protested at a candy makers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and again at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925. By this time, carnations had become associated with Mother’s Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace.
Even though today Mother’s Day is celebrated as a result of Anna Jarvis’ efforts, there have been many traditional celebrations of mothers and motherhood that have existed throughout the world over thousands of years, such as the Greek cult to Cybele, Rhea the Great Mother of the Gods, the Roman festival of Hilaria. And even today, in some countries, Mother’s Day is still synonymous with these older traditions.
The ancient Greeks used to celebrate their annual spring festival to honor Rhea, wife of Cronus and the mother of many deities of Greek mythology. Ancient Romans also celebrated a spring festival by the name of Hilaria in honor of Cybele, a mother goddess, some 250 years before Christ was born.
The ancient Egyptians held an annual festival to honor Isis, one of the most popular and enduring goddesses of ancient Egypt who represented the ideal mother and wife and was the patroness of nature and magic. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Isis was the wife of Osiris, who was also her brother. When Osiris was murdered by their envious brother Set, Isis gathered Osiris’s body parts that had been scattered around Egypt and used them to impregnate herself. She then gave birth to Horus, who avenged his father’s death and killed Set, becoming the first ruler of Egypt. As a result, Isis was regarded as the mother of all pharaohs and became symbolic of motherhood, and an annual festival was held in her honor.
In the United Kingdom, Mother’s Day is linked to Easter and is typically falls on the fourth Sunday during the period of Lent and is called Mothering Sunday. This day is celebrated to honour mothers and maternal figures and an occasion for children to honour and give presents to their hardworking mums. Originally linked to religion, this day has now lost most of its connections to the church and is mainly a family day. In the past, domestic servants were given the day off to return to their hometown and worship with their families. On their way home, these youths would pick wild flowers to place in the church – or give to their mums.
So what have you done to celebrate this day for your mum? And if you have children, have they done something special for you?