This weekend, millions of Americans will be sending out cards, chocolates and flowers for Mother’s Day. But the holiday as we know it today had very different roots — and springs from a surprisingly convoluted past.
According to historians, the earliest history of Mothers Day dates not back to a Hallmark sales slump, but way, way back. Back to the ancient Greeks and an annual spring festival that was dedicated to maternal goddesses, specifically Rhea.
Rhea was the daughter of Gaia, goddess of the Earth, and Uranus, the god of the sky. She was also wife of Cronus and was widely regarded as “the mother of gods.”
Her children? Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus.
Yes. That Zeus.
Now, not to be outdone, ancient Romans also celebrated a spring festival, this one called “Hilaria.”
Hilaria was dedicated to Cybele, also a mother goddess and included making offerings, parades and games.
Fast forward 250 to 300 years, Christians start to celebrate their own version of Mother’s Day. But, since worshipping or paying tribute to “goddesses” was generally frowned upon within the church, they had to change a few things around …
In short? Rhea and Cybele were out. Mary was in.
The Christian festival was held on the fourth Sunday of Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ. But in England, there was one more twist added: The holiday — called “Mothering Sunday” — was expanded to include all mothers.
Now, one would think that was the end of the story, the holiday simply grew from then and over time became Sunday brunch we’re all familiar with today.
But not so fast …
Do you know who Anna Jarvis is?
History tells us in the 1850’s, a women’s organizer from West Virginia named Ann Jarvis (Anna’s mom) held a Mothers’ Day work club to improve sanitary conditions. She was also involved with attempts to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and halting milk contamination.
During the Civil War, these “mothers’ groups” also nursed wounded soldiers, no matter which side they had fought on.
After the war ended, Jarvis and other women put together several events to try and promote friendship and well being in the wake of battle.
Ironically, Anna Jarvis — widely known as “The mother of Mother’s Day” — never had children of her own.
It was the death of her mother Ann in 1905 that led her to organize the first Mother’s Day observance in the states, which happened in the Spring of 1908.
Which is why, according to West Virginia Wesleyan University, the date is known as “Mother’s Day” and not “Mothers’ Day.” (Note the apostrophe placement.)
For those of you out there who aren’t English majors, allow a brief explanation: “Mother’s Day” is singular possessive. “Mothers’ Day” would be plural — all mothers.
The holiday began in remembrance of not mothers everywhere, but of one mother: Ann.
Later, through Jarvis’ efforts, Mother’s Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states and was eventually expanded upon to include all moms.
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday and the rest, as they say, is history.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.