As a quasi-historian, I find myself obsessed with why questions to things I’ve just routinely accepted. As an elementary-school-aged child, my teachers made us make a Mother’s Day gift and a card. In Sunday school we did the same, including giving our moms a carnation. I just did it; I never asked why. I was programmed to do. Thanks to my dad, I did it well until I went off to college and forgot one year to send my mom a card. Obvi, not one of my best moments, for which I carried the proverbial Catholic guilt.
So today, as I stood at the card display, I wondered. Why am I choosing one for my mom? Hallmark holiday? Why are my own kids carrying on this tradition? Hallmark holiday? Why do I keep all of the cards and knick-knack gifts my kids made me through their formative years? Why?
Based on my research, Mother’s Day origin can be traced to the Ancient Greeks and Romans–a practice continued for centuries. In America, women’s peace groups proposed a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” for the purpose of uniting families divided by the Civil War. Mrs. Ann Jarvis spearheaded the movement. Other women’s groups followed, including Julia Ward Howe’s, who led a “Mother’s Day for Peace” anti-war observance. Yet, it was Anna Jarvis who campaigned for an official Mother’s Day in 1908 in remembrance of her mother, Ann. She chose the carnation because it was her mother’s favorite flower.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May, officially Mother’s Day. However, Jarvis’ euphoria in her accomplishment lasted only 9 years. She became overtly concerned with the commercialism of Mother’s Day. In fact, she spent the rest of her life protesting against what she deemed the abuse of her holiday. Spending all of her inheritance and being arrested for disturbing the peace against the commercialization in 1948, she opposed the buying of cards, instead of writing personal notes. Florists jacked up the price of carnations. “I wish I would have never started the day; it’s out of control.”
Since it’s inception, Mother’s Day has become the most popular day to dine out and over a $5 billion dollar industry for florists, jewelers, and greeting card shops. Anna, you’re right; it’s a commercialized holiday. But in reality, my 92-year-old mom not only carried me in utero, put up with my shenanigans for 68 years, disciplined me, loved me when I didn’t love myself, and picked me up when I was down, but she still advises me in my darkest hours.
So I bought a card. I brought it home. I wrote a brief note and stuffed into the envelope a gift card from her favorite store. Just as I was about to seal the envelope, I looked at the card again.
Damn, Sue! Why didn’t you have your glasses on when you bought this card? From Your Son? Mom would think I’d lost it! I went back to the card store, selected another, wrote message, and posted it today. Sorry Anna Jarvis. I spent double my allowance on a greeting card. Yet, I’m so grateful to still have a mom with whom to talk and visit occasionally. And Anna, I really don’t care how much carnations cost–it’s my pleasure to buy them to honor my mother. Priceless.