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The Origins of Mother's Day in the United States of America

Mother's Day as we know it in the 21st Century originated in the United States of America.  On May 9, 1914, by an act of Congress, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.   President Wilson established the day as a time for "public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

A form of Mother's Day was first suggested in 1870, during the American Civil War, by Julia Ward Howe (who wrote the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic").   She called for an assembly of women "to bewail and commerate the dead" and to "take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace." (Julia Ward Howe 1870 Mother's Day Proclamation)   Julia Ward Howe organized a number of annual gatherings in Boston beginning in 1872.   Mrs Anna Reeves Jarvis likewise was involved in the peace movement and called for a special day in which prayers for mothers and for their children would be offered along with prayers for peace and non-violent solutions for disputes between nations.   In 1907 Anna Jarvis, daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, took up the torch.   Her campaign led directly to President's Wilson's establishment of Mother's Day and gave rise to the tradition of distributing carnations on Mother's Day.   Further information about the origins of Mother's Day, in a format that can be shared with children during the children's time at church can be found by clicking on The Story of Mother's Day.

Mothering Sunday

A special day to express love and reverence for mothers is not entirely new.   In England, since at least the 17th Century, the Fourth Sunday of Lent was known as "Mothering Sunday".   It was a day when mothers were honoured.   Servants who worked and normally resided in the homes of the wealthy were given the day off and encouraged to return to their homes and spend time with their mothers.   A tradition arose involving the baking of special type of fruit cake, known as Simnel Cake, which would be shared both at home and at various gatherings.   (The Fourth Sunday of Lent, complete with the very same cake, was also observed in some places as "Laetare (Rejoice/Refresh) Sunday", the predecessor of our modern "Laughter" or Holy Humour Sunday.)   There appears to be no direct connnection between Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day.

Difficulties With Mother's Day

It is worth noting here that Anna Jarvis became disillusioned with how Mother's Day evolved, and in particular with the commercialization of the holiday.   Jarvis "filed a lawsuit in 1923 to stop a Mother's Day festival and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace when she protested the sale of carnations to raise money for a war mother's convention.   Jarvis told reporters shortly before her death at age 84 that she was sorry she had ever started Mother's Day." (cited from a PRCL note by the Rev. Alice W. Erickson, United Church of Christ, Glouster, MA, 2005)

Since 1914 many countries have either officially or unofficially adopted the observance of Mothers' Day (For example Australia, Belguim, Finland and Holland have all adopted the second sunday of May as Mother's Day). This has placed pressure on the Church to recognise and observe Mother's Day in its proclamation of the Word and in its Worship and Prayer.   Phil Ware reflects on on the some of the pastoral and theological issues involved in celebrating Mother's (and Father's) Day in his article titled A Complicated Joy.   We recommend this article for those struggling with what it means to lift up parents in a society where many children experience the pain of separation, divorce, parental abuse and so forth.

Some churches, such as the United Church of Canada, have responded to the pastoral issues that can be raised by the celebration of "Mother's Day" by designated the Second Sunday of May as "Christian Family Sunday" and enouraging its members to try to avoid the commercial and sentimental excesses of Mother's Day.   (In North America Mothers Day is the busiest and most profitable celebration for flower shops and restaurant owners).   Because of those excesses other churches have attempted to ignore Mother's Day completely.   Our own approach is to use the occasion as a chance to meet the people of the church at the point where they live with the Word that tells us how to live and which speaks to us about "honouring our mothers and fathers".

Resources For Mother's Day

There are no special texts provided by the Revised Common Lectionary for Mother's Day / Mothering Sunday.   Our resources generally use whatever texts are suggested for the Sunday in the Christian Year that Mother's Day happens to fall on - though in the spirit of "free churches" we have occasionally departed completely from the Lectionary.

Ideas For Celebrating Mother's Day

copyright - ChristianGlobe Network,, by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild,  2002 - 2006
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