Mother Nature. Mother tongue. Mother lode. Motherland. Motherhood.
Mother: A word deeply rooted in the notion of origins, of the fundamental, the universal things. A word that in itself embraces the ‘other’. It’s the very embodiment of altruism.
The history (or rather herstory) of Mother’s Day can be traced back as far as the 6th century BC, to an Anatolian deity called Cybele. She represented nature, fruitfulness and fertility, and was known as the Mother Goddess. Her cult following spread from Asia Minor to Greece and eventually to Rome, where she was rechristened Magna Mater, or ‘Great Mother’.
The Ancient Romans celebrated her with an annual Spring Festival, in which food and flowers were exchanged at dawn.
An ancient precursor to today’s tradition of daffodils and breakfast in bed, perhaps?
It wasn’t all roses for womankind though. Industrial war arrived to wreak its wreckage, taking so many young lives with it, and the first feminists began to fly their flags in protest. Not quite the bra-burning breed mind you, those didn’t come onto the scene until about 100 years later.
These women wanted peace, but they weren’t afraid to fight for it.
Think somewhere between Mother Theresa and Madonna (as in Like a Virgin, not the Virgin Mother).
In 1870, a poet and social activist called Julia Ward Howe penned the Mothers’ Day Proclamation, an appeal to all women to join in protest against the carnage of the Civil War. It was a rallying call for peace, unity and disarmament.
Meanwhile, another woman was devoting herself to a similar cause. Founder of the Mother’s Day Work Clubs, Ann Jarvis made it her life’s mission to improve health conditions in her community. When the war broke out she made the ultimate peaceful pledge and declared neutrality, providing aid to soldiers in both camps.
After her death in 1905, It was in her honour that her daughter put Mother’s Day on the map for the first time.
On May 12th 1907, Anna Marie Jarvis held a memorial service for her mother, handing out flowers and urging children to hand-write personal notes to their own mothers.
It was she who shifted the collective notion of ‘Mothers’ Day’ to the more personal ‘Mother’s Day’ as we all know it today.
But the power of that little apostrophe proved fatefully counteractive, when much to her dismay, the tradition quickly spread and become a major commercial event.
‘I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother – and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment. This is the paradox of my life. My greatest success is also my greatest defeat.’
Jarvis spent the rest of her life protesting against the holiday she had created. She actually filed a law suit in 1923 to stop a mother’s day festival – and, ironically, she was arrested for disturbing the peace.
Despite her best efforts, the day remains a firm fixture in calendars across the world. You can’t really find fault with her dedication to a higher cause, but most mothers today are likely to give you short shrift should you choose to share it.
Now, where’s that box of chocolates….
Happy Mother’s Day!