Like most of our holidays, Mother’s Day began with a major religious connotation that has been largely overtaken by commercialism. Today’s celebrations also have been affected by such facts as:
- Throughout the world, women are having fewer children. Fertility rates have dropped in the past 50 years from 4.5 births per woman to 2.5 per woman.
- In the U.S., men and women are marrying at later ages — from the average age of 20 to 27 for brides over the past 50 years and from almost 23 to just over 29 for grooms.
- Consequently, birth rates have dropped for women under age 30 and have risen among women aged 30-44. But births out-of-wedlock have risen to more than half (53 percent) for women under 30.
- Even more striking is the fact that today, only 46 percent of families with children under 18 years of age include two parents in a first marriage. Some 15 percent of families have two parents in a remarriage situation. In seven percent of two parent situations, it is a cohabiting arrangement. In 26 percent of the cases, there is a single parent. Five percent of children have no parent in their life.
All of those developments have affected family relationships and attitudes toward a celebration of the role of mothers which some historians have suggested stem from the ancient Greek spring festivals honoring the maternal goddess Rhea, wife of Cronus and the mother of many deities in Greek mythology.
Romans later notoriously celebrated the spring festival Hilaria dedicated to the mother goddess, Cybele.
Through later centuries, Catholic Christians have observed feast days honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus. The principal ones are the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in December, the Feast for Mary, Mother of God in January, and the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in August.
The modern observance probably took root in the 1870's when Julia Ward Howe, famed author of the words to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” advocated for a June date to honor mothers especially as supporters of peace.
But the woman who brought the celebration to fruition was herself single.
Anna Marie Jarvis was the ninth of 11 children of Ann Maria (Reeves) and Granville E. Jarvis on May 1, 1864, in Webster, West Virginia.
It was her mother’s church and community life that inspired the daughter to have careers in public education, banking, insurance and a taxi business as well as a strong faith of her own.
After her mother’s death three years earlier, Anna Marie organized a memorial service in the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church where they both had been active. The May 10th, 1908, event was a service honoring not only her mother but all mothers.
Miss Jarvis said it was in response to a prayer by her mother at the end of a Sunday School class many years earlier:
“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”
Encouraged by the response to the service which featured white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, and its symbolism of a mother’s pure love, Miss Jarvis and her supporters began writing to people of influence around the country and by 1911 nearly every state was holding Mother’s Day ceremonies.
It was on May 8, 1914, that President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution of Congress officially designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Before her death in 1948, she sought to rescind the holiday designation because she felt the nursery, confection and greeting card industries had commercialized it to such an extent that much of the significance and real sentiment had been lost.
Outside the home, it still is the church where the day is most celebrated. Even there, much of the observance has become routine and somewhat trite with recognition of the oldest mother and the one with the most children.
Yet God’s word, as it comes to us in the Bible, says it should be otherwise. In the 31st chapter of Proverbs the good woman who is a wife and mother is described as “worth far more than diamonds.”
She is called trust worthy, “always faces tomorrow with a smile,” speaks kindly and when she does “has something worthwhile to say,” a skillful and diligent worker, “quick to help anyone in need.” She “keeps an eye on everyone in her household and keeps them all busy and productive.”
“Her children respect and bless her, her husband joins in with words of praise…(because) the woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the fear of God. Give her everything she deserves!” [“The Message” version of the Bible.]