You might guess that Mother’s Day is one of those holidays invented by greeting card companies and florists to send gifts. It certainly is promoted in those ways and generates a lot of sales. The gift-giving aspect is relatively new, but the celebrations of motherhood are more ancient.
In ancient times, motherhood, spring and fertility were all connected. Celebrations to honor Isis in ancient Egypt marked her as a loving mother-goddess. She is often shown in artwork breastfeeding Horus. That tradition continues on, perhaps most notably in the art of Mary and the baby Jesus in later Christian iconography.
In Turkey, there was the mother-goddess, Cybele, which carried over with some variations to Greece and Rome. Some of those variations include more drinking, dancing, songs and debauchery than we might associate with motherhood.
As Christianity grew, the church took pagan celebrations and recast them for their own purposes. The fourth Sunday of Lent was set as a day to honor motherhood in the form of the Virgin Mary and the “mother church.”
In the 1600s, England declared that day to be Mothering Day and workers were allowed a day off to visit their mothers. The day was a one day exemption from the Lenten fasting, so that families could celebrate as a family.
The Pilgrims tried to clean up many holy days that had become holidays (secular) and did not celebrate Mothering Day. That held until the idea was revived as a non-religious holiday in the late 1800s.
You can credit Julia Ward Howe back in 1870 for our modern celebration of the day. Her intention in that post-Civil War time was to have a day when mothers could come together and protest their sons killing other mothers’ sons.
The “blame” for our more modern commercial celebration probably goes to Anna Jarvis whose own mother started Mother’s Friendship Days to reunite families separated during the war. After her mom’s death, Anna worked to have an official Mother’s Day.
That first official Mother’s Day was on May 10, 1908, though it was only really celebrated in a few locations. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.
Though we can “blame” Anna for the modern incarnation of commercialized celebration, she was actually quite upset that florists and card sellers jumped on the day. Nevertheless, the commercialization continues. Anna Jarvis died in poverty and without ever becoming a mother herself.