Contrary to popular belief, Mother's Day was not conceived and fine-tuned in the boardroom of Hallmark. The earliest tributes to mothers date back to the annual spring festival the Greeks dedicated to Rhea, the mother of many deities, and to the offerings ancient Romans made to their Great Mother of Gods, Cybele. Christians celebrated this festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honor of Mary, mother of Christ. In England this holiday was expanded to include all mothers and was called Mothering Sunday.
In the United States, Mother's Day started almost 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day."
Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.
In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."
Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favorite flower, the white carnation. Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.
At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mother's group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the mother's day tradition.
Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and to express appreciation of their mothers.
Perhaps one of the best essays on mothers came from the creative pen of the late Erma Bombeck whose piece entitled, When God Made Moms Is a classic.
By the time the Lord made mothers, he was into his sixth day of working overtime. An Angel appeared and said "Why are you spending so much time on this one"? And the Lord answered and said, "Have you seen the spec sheet on her? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic; have 200 movable parts, all replaceable; run on black coffee and leftovers; have a lap that can hold three children at one time and that disappears when she stands up; have a kiss that can cure anything from a scraped knee to a broken heart, and have six pairs of hands."
The Angel was astounded at the requirements for this one. "Six pairs of hands? No Way!" said the Angel.
The Lord replied, "Oh, it's not the hands that are the problem. It's the three pairs of eyes that mothers must have!"
"And that's just on the standard model?" The Angel asked.
The Lord nodded in agreement, "Yes, one pair of eyes are to see through the closed door as she asks her children what they are doing even though she already knows. Another pair in the back of her head, are to see what she needs to know even though no one thinks she can. And the third pair are here in the front of her head. They are for looking at an errant child and saying that she understands and loves him or her without even saying a single word."
The Angel tried to stop the Lord. "This is too much work for one day. Wait until tomorrow to finish."
"But I can't!" the Lord protested, "I am so close to finishing this creation that is so close to my own heart. She already heals herself when she is sick AND can feed a family of six on a pound of hamburger and can get a nine year old to stand in the shower."
The Angel moved closer and touched the woman, "But you have made her so soft, Lord."
"Yes, she is soft", the Lord agreed, "But I have also made her tough. You have no idea what she can endure or accomplish."
"Will she be able to think?” asked the inquisitive Angel.
The Lord smiled and replied, "Not only will she be able to think, she will be able to reason, and negotiate."
The Angel then noticed something and reached out and touched the woman's cheek. "Oops, it looks like you have a leak with this model. I told you that you were trying to put too much into this one."
"That's not a leak." The Lord objected. "That is a tear!"
"What's the tear for? the Angel asked.
The Lord said, "The tear is her way of expressing her joy, her sorrow, her disappointment, her pain, her loneliness, her grief, and her pride."
The Angel was impressed. "You are a genius, Lord. You thought of everything! Truly, You do all things well... Moms are truly amazing!"
Happy Mother's Day