09 Mar The Fascinating History of Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is not just another Hallmark holiday. Behind the flowers and the cards are centuries of fascinating tradition and history. In this article, we discover the world’s most ancient celebration of motherhood in Nepal, find out who the “mother of Mother’s day” was, and learn why British Mothering Sunday had to be established twice.
Included in this article:
- The most ancient known mother’s day ritual in Nepal
- Pagan motherhood festivals
- Origins of Mothering Sunday in the UK
- Anna Jarvis, the “Mother of Mother’s Day”
- Why the British Mother’s Day was lost and found
- Mother’s Day dates around the world
It started with an ancient Nepalese celebration of motherhood
One of the longest standing traditions that honour motherhood is a Hindu festival called Mata Tirtha Aunshi.
Meaning ‘Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight’, it has been celebrated for many centuries.
Today, it is still a custom in Nepal. It takes place every April or May during the new moon.
Mother’s Day ritual in Nepal – photo by Sara Parker on Flickr.com
What happens during Mata Tirtha Aunshi?
For the Nepalese people, Mata Tirtha Aunshi is a time to visit and honour their mothers.
On a larger scale, it a recognition of the importance of mothers in society. During this time adult children usually travel home to visit their mothers, bringing gifts.
Those whose mothers have passed away perform a special bathing and prayer ritual and leave offerings in a temple.
Nepalese women wearing red saris for Mata Tirtha Aunshi – photo by Magda Wojtyra on Flickr.com
The mother goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome
In Europe, the earliest known motherhood festivals date back to ancient Greece and Rome.
The Greeks dedicated a spring festival to Rhea, mother to many gods found in Greek mythology.
In Rome, a cult feast called Hilaria was held in honour of Cybele, the goddess of motherhood and nature.
The Cibeles Fountain in Madrid depicting Cybele the Roman goddess of motherhood – Photo by Brian Prout on Flickr.com
The Catholic Church and Virgin Mary
When Christianity began to spread through Europe, the Catholic Church adopted many pagan festivals and turned them into Christian celebrations.
Among these was the motherhood festival that had originated in Rome and Greece. The Catholic Church changed it into a celebration to honour their own holy mother, the Virgin Mary.
It became known as Mothering Sunday and was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Mothering Sunday arrives in Britain
Thanks to the Christian church, by the 17th century, Mothering Sunday had become a well-established religious custom in Britain.
Wealthy households would send their servants home on that day to visit their mothers, and it was customary for children to bring their mother a ‘mothering cake’, later known as the Easter Simnel Cake.
Sadly though, by the end of the 19th century, the tradition had been lost.
Had it not been for two very determined ladies across the Atlantic, this special holiday might never have been celebrated in the UK again.
An Easter Simnel Cake or “mothering cake” – Photo by Edward on WikiPedia.org
Mother’s Day – lost and found
Anna Jarvis, often referred to as the Mother of Mother’s Day, was an American social activist during the beginning of the 1900s.
She was influenced by her own mother who had witnessed the sacrifices made by women during the tough years of the American Civil War, and who, as her dying wish, had hoped for a future national day of celebration to honour all mothers.
Mothers defending their families during the American Civil War – painting by Mort Künstler / CivilWarTalk.com
President Woodrow Wilson approves Mother’s Day in the USA
After her mother passed away, Anna Jarvis wrote many letters to powerful people, campaigning for her mother’s cause.
In 1914 she was finally rewarded when President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday in May as the official Mother’s Day in the US.
Anna Jarvis’ birthplace marker – photo by Jimmy Emerson DVM on Flickr.com
Mother’s Day returns to the UK
As a result of Anna Jarvis’ work, Mothering Sunday became one of the most popular remembrance days in the USA.
After World War II, American servicemen brought the custom over to Britain with them – along with commercial enterprises like selling carnations, which had been Anna Jarvis’ mother’s favourite flower.
Now, Mother’s Day is a custom all over the world, including in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, India, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Italy, Turkey, China and Mexico.
Carnations were Anna Jarvis’ mother’s favourite flower
The Mother’s Day is a beautiful tradition
So there you have it. It’s true that Hallmark, florists, chocolatiers and retailers get a lot of custom for Mother’s Day.
However, gifting is simply one part of this tradition.
It is the long history of genuine love and gratitude for our mums that has ensured we still celebrate this special holiday today.
2019 UK & International dates for Mother’s Day
31 March 2019 – United Kingdom, Ireland – as well as Nigeria, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man (coincides with the fourth Sunday of Lent)
12 May 2019 – USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – as well as Germany, Brazil, China, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, India, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Switzerland,
10 February 2019 – Norway
8 March 2019 – Macedonia, Moldova (coincides with International Women’s Day)
21 March 2019 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates
17th April 2019 – Nepal (Mata Tirtha Aunsi, more about this below)
5 May 2019 – Spain, Portugal
10 May 2019 – Mexico
22 May 2019 – Israel
26 May 2019 – France, Morocco, Sweden
24th November 2019 – Russia
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