Celebrating Mom has gone on around the world for centuries. Ancient Greeks celebrated a holiday in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. Ancient Romans celebrated a holiday in honor of Cybele, a mother goddess. In the British Isles and Celtic Europe, the goddess Brigid, and later her successor St. Brigid, were honored with a spring Mother’s Day connected with the first milk of the ewes. Mothering Sunday was celebrated in Britain beginning in the 17th century, implemented so apprentices and servants could return home for the day to visit their mothers. By the 19th century, the holiday had almost completely died out.
In 1858, in West Virginia, Mother’s Day (or Mothers’ Work Days) was initiated by Anna Reeves Jarvis, a local teacher and church member, who wanted to work for improved sanitation in her town and during the Civil War; she extended the purpose of “Mothers’ Work Days” to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides in conflict.
Julia Ward Howe also tried to establish a Mother’s Day in America (best known as the author of the words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic).In 1872; she began promoting the idea of a “Mother’s Day for Peace” honoring motherhood and womanhood. In 1873, 18 cities in America held gatherings. Celebrated every June 2, most celebrations died out, but some went on for 30 years.
In 1905, at her mother’s gravesite, Anna Jarvis, daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, swore to dedicate her life to her mother’s project and establish a Mother’s Day to honor mothers both living and dead. By 1909, Mother’s Day services were held in 46 states plus Canada and Mexico. Finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson passed a Joint Resolution with the US congress to establish an official Mother’s Day.
The carnation has become a familiar part of the Mother’s Day celebration and a symbol of motherly love because in the first 1907 gathering, Jarvis handed out 500 white carnations at her mother’s church. They were chosen because of her mother’s fondness for them. They were immediately accepted as appropriate for the occasion. It was the qualities of sweetness, purity, and endurance that made the carnation synonymous with Mother’s Day.
Today, the white carnation is regarded as the flower to honor a deceased mother while the pink carnation honors the living mother.
Thanks to Anna Jarvis’ crusade to continue her mother’s work, children around the world have a national day in which to honor their mothers.
Sources: “How the carnation became associated with Mother’s Day” by Julie Anderson and www.womenshistory.about.com