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By: Danielle O’Dwyer


Mother, mum, mama, whatever you call her, you may love her, hate her or not even know who she is, but we all have a mother or mother figure in our lives who is there to help guide us. Mother’s Day is the celebration that honors mothers, motherhood and the influence of mothers in our lives. Festivals honoring mothers and mother goddesses are believed to date back to ancient times. The Phrygians (Indo-European people of the early B.C era) held a festival for Cybele, the Great Mother of the Gods, as did the Greeks for the goddess Rhea.

Some countries have even continued to observe ancient festivals to this day, for example: Durga-puja, honoring the goddess Durga, remains an important festival in India. In Hindu tradition Mother’s Day is called ‘Marta Tirtha Aunshi’ or ‘Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight’ and is celebrated in Nepal. The holiday is observed on the new moon in the month of Baisakh (April/May). This celebration is based on Hindu religion and it pre-dates the creation of the western-inspired holiday by at least a few centuries.

In 1872 Julia Ward Howe called for women to join in support of disarmament and asked for the 2nd of June to be established as a ‘Mother’s Day for Peace’, but Mrs Howe’s day was not for honoring mothers, it was for organizing pacifist mothers against war. During the 1880’s and 1890’s there were several further attempts to establish ‘Mother’s Day’, but these didn’t succeed beyond the local level.

The current holiday was created by Anna Jarvis in West Virginia in 1908, as a day to honor mothers. Miss Jarvis wanted to accomplish her mother’s dream of creating a celebration for all mothers. Although the idea did not take off until she enlisted the services of wealthy Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker. Miss Jarvis kept promoting the holiday until President Woodrow Wilson made the day an official national holiday in 1914. The holiday eventually became so highly commercialized that many, including its founder Anna Jarvis, considered it a ‘Hallmark holiday’. Anna criticized the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter, and became a major opponent of what the holiday had become; spending her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration. She died in 1948 regretting what had become of the holiday.

Mother’s Day continues to be one of the most commercially successful American occasions and is celebrated on the second Sunday in May.


The United Kingdom celebrates Mothering Sunday, which falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This holiday has its roots in the church and was originally unrelated to the American holiday. Most historians believe that Mothering Sunday evolved from the 16th century Christian practice of visiting one’s mother’s church annually on Laetare Sunday (fourth Sunday of Lent). As a result of this tradition, most mothers were reunited with their children on this day when apprentices and young women in service were released for that weekend. As a result of the influence of American Mother’s Day, Mothering Sunday evolved into the tradition of giving gifts in appreciation to all mothers.

The tradition of giving gifts to mothers on Mother’s Day in Australia was started by Mrs Janet Heyden, a resident of Leichhardt, Sydney in 1924. She began the tradition during a visit to a patient at the Newington State Home for Women, where she met many lonely and forgotten mothers. To cheer them up she rounded up support from local school children and businesses to donate and bring gifts to the women. Every year after this Mrs Heyden raised increasing support for the project from local businesses. A common Mother’s Day gift in Australia is the chrysanthemum; traditionally given to mother’s, this flower is naturally in season during May and ends in ‘mum’, a common affectionate shortening of ‘mother’.

When Mother’s Day comes again on the second Sunday in May, know that it isn’t just a commercial event; this day has an interesting past based on historic events. The day was also hard won by people who believed in promoting mothers for the special people they are.

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