The history of Mother’s Day goes way back. In early Egypt, the goddess Isis was regarded as Mother of the Pharaohs and honored in an annual festival. Romans also celebrated the Isis festival—with mostly female dancers, singers and musicians—but they also revered Cybele (Rhea) as the mother of all the major gods, including Zeus.
From goddess moms to real moms: In 1600AD England, Mothering Day was established by clerical decree as a compassionate holiday for working-class mothers during which, servants and trade workers were allowed to travel back to their towns of origin to visit their families, who gave them cakes and flowers.
Original English settlers to the U.S. discontinued Mothering Day, probably because they were preoccupied with survival in the new, harsh land. In 1870, however, Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood, after seeing the futility of sons killing the sons of other mothers during the Civil War. She even proposed converting July 4 into Mother’s Day as a dedication to peace, but eventually settled on June 2.
When Howe stopped funding the celebrations, most of them languished, but the seeds had taken root. On May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place in a West Virginia church. By 1909, 46 states were holding Mother’s Day services, and the idea had spread to Canada and Mexico. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Today, more than 70 countries observe Mother’s Day in varied styles:
• In Argentina, groups of children circle their mothers and read them poetry.
• In France, after WWI, mothers received medals: bronze for 4-5 children, silver for 6-7, and gold for 8 or more. Today a common gift is a cake shaped like a bouquet of flowers.
• In India, Hindus honor their divine mother, Durga, during a 10-day fest.
• In Japan, since WWII, children enter drawings of their mothers in an art contest held every 4 years. Winning drawings tour through Japan and other countries to celebrate mothers and peace.
• In Mexico, mothers are treated to a song sung by their families, or a serenade by a hired band.
• In Ethiopia, mothers and daughters anoint themselves on the face and chest with butter.
• In Italy, there’s a big feast and a cake in the shape of a heart.
• In Sweden, the Swedish Red Cross sells small plastic flowers, with the proceeds going to poor mothers and their children.
• In Yugoslavia and Serbia, everyone gets tied up. Children, until they promise to be good (Children’s Day), mothers, until they offer treats and candy (Mother’s Day), and fathers, until he promises more lavish gifts, clothing or shoes (Father’s Day), which usually become the family’s Christmas gifts.
The National Retail Foundation estimates that Mother’s Day is a $16-billion industry. Retailers report it as the second highest gift-giving day, behind Christmas.
Happy Mother’s Day!