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Archive date:  May 10, 2001

The Many Origins of Mother's Day

From Ancient Greece to North America

Mothers have been honored during the spring for centuries. It seems the ideal time, with the explosion of nature, to celebrate Mother Earth and all mothers that have provided us with life.

Mother's Day began as a celebration of ethereal mothers in ancient Greece and Rome. The Greeks honored Rhea (mother Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus) with an annual spring festival. They would pay tribute with honey-cakes, fine drinks, and flowers at dawn.

Early Christians honored the Mother of Christ, the Virgin Mary, on the fourth Sunday of Lent. They would adorn the churches with flowers, jewels, precious metals, and other expensive gifts. England later expanded the holiday to include all mothers, and decreed the fourth Sunday of Lent as Mothering Sunday. After church children went "a-mothering", returning home with gifts, flowers, and special cakes.

The celebration of Mother's Day did not extend to the United States until the 1900's. In 1870 Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, tried to establish Mother's Day for Peace after the Civil War. It was mildly successful but was never given formal recognition. Her idea was influenced by Anna Jarvis, who attempted to improve the sanitary conditions for both the north and the south during the Civil War. She organized women from both sides to work together on what she called Mother's Work Days.

Anna Jarvis' daughter, also named Anna Jarvis, finally established Mother's Day in her mother's honor. The second Sunday of May was recognized as a national holiday in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day. In honor of Mrs. Anna Jarvis, the House of Representative adopted a resolution that all officials of the federal government are to wear white carnations (Mrs. Jarvis' favorite flower) on Mother's Day.