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Mother's Day
Introduction

Mother's Day is a time to celebrate mothers and motherhood. Since it was officially recognized in the U.S. in the early 20th century it has become a time to let your mother know how much she means to you; to spend time with her; buy her flowers, chocolates and gifts; treat her to a meal, a spa day or other fun activity. It is her day off from normal household duties, to relax and be pampered; your chance to thank her and show her she is appreciated for all she does and has done for you and your family.

Although only celebrated in the U.S. for the past century or so, the existence of a day to celebrate mothers and motherhood has existed in many countries and religions since at least the time of the ancient Egyptian civilization.

Ancient Origins

Fertility and reproduction were extremely important to early civilizations as mortality rates were much higher, especially among the very young and very old. Mothers were seen as the personification of reproduction and figurines were produced of mothers with large breasts and large hips to help increase the chances of successful child-bearing. Many such figurines have survived until today and are some of the earliest examples of figurines ever produced.

Because of the emphasis on reproduction among ancient civilizations, the early versions of Mother's Day were more about the celebration of motherhood than the personal celebration of our own mothers that we see today. As the early civilizations were also polytheistic, the focus of their Mother's Days was the most senior female deity. In the case of the Egyptians, the goddess Isis was worshipped as the mother of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The Romans paid tribute to the mother goddess Cybele and the Greeks honored Rhea, mother of the major Greek gods.

European Influence

Mother's Day took on a new meaning in the 16th century when European Christians set aside the 4th Sunday of Lent to celebrate the 'mother' church and the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. This interpretation was expanded in England in the 17th century to be the first time Mother's Day had a personal focus on real mothers. The English called the day Mothering Sunday and it became a time for people to travel home and spend the day with their mother.

The early U.S. settlers that came from England dropped this celebration as it did not sit well with their puritan brand of Christianity and it was not until the late 19th century that the idea was resurrected.

U.S. Mother's Day

In 1870, borne out of the frustrations of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe called for an international Mother's Day celebrating peace and motherhood. Several cities began celebrating June 2nd as a Mother's holiday in 1873, but the holiday did not survive many years.

Howe's work was picked up by Anna Reeves Jarvis, who led a West Virginian women's group. She saw women, and mothers in particular, being among the worst affected victims of the war, seeing their sons dying and killing the sons of other mothers, and she saw them being the beacons of sanity around which families could gather and overcome the divisions created by war. The group celebrated a Mother's Friendship Day.

Unfortunately Anna passed away before she could see her efforts nationally accepted, but her daughter (also called Anna) continued to campaign and petition for her mother's dream. Working her way through church, state and ultimately national authorities, Anna M. Jarvis gained increased acceptance at each level until finally in 1914 Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day in the U.S.

Having fulfilled her mother's dream, Anna's story should have ended happily, but unfortunately the increasing commercialization of the holiday greatly offended her. She perceived the florist and greeting card industries in particular exploiting the day and detracting from the original purpose of the holiday. She went on to campaign as vociferously in opposition to the commercialization as she had originally for recognition of the holiday, right up until her death in 1948.

Carnations have become the flower of Mother's Day, the white carnation being the favorite flower of Anna Reese Jarvis, used to honor her in the first modern Mother's Day. It is now traditional to use white carnations for deceased mothers and pink carnations for living mothers, although most people simply select the flowers and gifts that their own mothers prefer.

Mother's Day is now celebrated in most countries of the world. The date of Mother's Day varies from country to country and the manner of celebration also varies to accommodate local customs and family values. The common thread is that it is the one day of the year put aside to recognize and honor mothers.

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