In the United States and over forty other countries, today is Mother’s Day. Moms are getting breakfast in bed, taken out for brunch, or bouquets of lovely flowers. Children have colored lovely pictures for Mom to hang on the refrigerator doors. Dads are doing the dishes. In many regards, it has become a greeting-card holiday, but the roots of this celebration are very deep.
Celebrations of mothers and motherhood date back at least to Ancient Egypt. Isis was the goddess of motherhood, and considered mother to the pharaohs. Her husband Osiris was killed by his brother Seth, but Isis temporarily ‘rebuilt’ him and impregnated herself, and Horus was born. Seth was furious, so Isis had to protect her son by hiding him in the reeds. Horus grew up to be the first pharaoh, thus Isis became the Mother of the Pharaohs. Every year there was a Spring festival in honor of Isis.
Greek and Roman mythology honored Rhea (or the Roman variation, Cybele) as the mother of all the gods, including Zeus. Other early cultures influenced these myths, including Gaia the Earth Mother, Magna Mater as mother of all, and Mater Orie the mother of the mountains. Romans celebrated Magna Mater in late March with a week of games and festivals.
Early European Christians celebrated their baptism in “Mother Church” on a Sunday during Lent. In the early 1600’s, during the reign of King James I, a translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English was one step in building a stronger church in England, and Mothering Day was proclaimed. Held the fourth Sunday of Lent, workers and servants were free to travel on that day to their childhood homes and feast with their mothers.
In 1870, Julie Ward Howe wrote an eloquent proclamation which became the start of the movement to create a nationally recognized Mother’s Day in the United States. If her name sounds familiar to you it may be because, in 1858, Howe wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. By 1870, she was distressed by the ongoing wars and battles of the world. She felt that mothers should unite against the idea of “sons killing other mother’s sons.” Her vision was a coming together of women of the world, to promote peace. This movement did not catch on, but it laid the ground work for our contemporary Mother’s Day.
In 1908, Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for a Mother’s Day to honor mothers and celebrate peace. After the loss of her own mother, she worked through churches and Sunday schools to create a special day of honor. This idea spread quickly, and within a year the Young Men’s Christian Association asked a U.S. Senator to sponsor a bill creating Mother’s Day. While it failed at that time, Jarvis worked tirelessly on an international effort to formalize a day honoring mothers. The World Sunday School Organization took up the cause, and by 1914 the second Sunday in May was officially proclaimed Mother’s Day, with President Woodrow Wilson signing the law. While this day honoring mothers has since spread to many other countries, the commercialization of the day, which started within ten years of the proclamation, distressed Jarvis.
Most present-day celebrations honoring mothers are held in Spring, but some traditions tie to other holidays. In Yugoslavian custom, the Sunday after Christmas is Materitse or Mother’s Day. In Serbia a similar day is two weeks before Christmas. In Ethiopia, as the rainy season ends in early fall, families come together for Antrosht, a three-day festival celebrating mothers. While many people in India have adopted the May date for Mother’s Day, they also celebrate Durga Puja in October. This large, and sometimes commercialized, festival honors the Hindi goddess Durga, or divine mother. In Bahrain, Lebanon, and some nearby countries, Ruz-e Madar is celebrated on the first day of Spring. On mu quin jie day in Hong Kong people honor their deceased mothers. In Australia, a mum is just as likely to receive a gift of tea as flowers.
However you choose to do so, it is a great day to reflect upon mothers and motherhood, and celebrate all the great things they do for their families.
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