A global history of Mother's day

It's a special day for mums, but just who was the genius who brought this day into existence?

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It's a special day for mums, but just who was the genius who brought this day into existence? Learn some useless facts to astound your friends and family...

The earliest records of celebrating motherhood were ancient festivals for goddesses such as the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Rhea.

In the 1600s, Mothering Sunday was celebrated in Britain. It was established mainly to allow servants and apprentices a day to visit their families.

The first modern Mother’s Day concept is credited to Julie Ward Howe. Ward became distraught seeing the carnage of the US Civil War and wanted mothers to stop their sons killing the sons of other mothers.

As a result of Howe's efforts which included the first Mother's Day proclaimed in 1870, a passionate demand for disarmament and peace, 18 North American cities celebrated Mother’s Day for Peace, with Howe footing the bill.

Mother's Day proclamation
(Julie Ward Howe, United States Library of Congress)

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

Mother's Day celebration can be traced back to Anna M. Jarvis, who campaigned for an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, a pioneering activist on public health issues.

Anna M. Jarvis petitioned the superintendent of the church where her mother had taught Sunday School for over 20 years. On May 10 1908 the request was honoured and the first official Mother’s Day service took place at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virgina, USA. White carnations, the favourite flower of Anna M. Jarvis’s mother, were given to every mother in attendance. 

Today, white carnations are used to honour deceased mothers, while pink or red carnations pay tribute to mothers who are still alive.

Later in her life, Jarvis became concerned that the true meaning of Mother’s Day had been lost and the event was being exploited by commercial industry. Nonetheless, the Mother’s Day holiday spread across the US and the world. At the time of Jarvis’s death in 1948, more than 40 countries observed Mother’s Day.

How do nations around the globe celebrate?

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Inspired by American soldiers in World War I, France celebrated its first Mother’s Day in 1918. The emphasis of the festivities was initially to encourage re-population and awards were given to mothers of four or more children.

On the second Sunday in May each year a westernised version of Mother’s Day is officially celebrated. Apart from this, Hindus celebrate a 10-day festival in October called Durga Puja, which praises their divine mother, the goddess Durga, also known as Kali.

Mother’s Day celebrations in China are similar to those in the West. The Chinese culture strongly values maternal heritage and most Chinese names begin with a character signifying Mother. This is a way to honour the child’s mother.

Annual Mother’s Day celebrations on August 12 in Thailand coincide with the birthday of the Thai’s beloved queen, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara. Queen Sirikit has reigned since 1950 and is regarded as the mother of all Thai people.

Swedish Mother’s Day takes place on the last Sunday in May and has a strong focus on charity. The Red Cross sell small plastic flowers with proceeds going to disadvantaged mothers.

United Kingdom

In UK, Mother's Day celebrations takes place on the fourth Sunday in the month of Lent. Mother's Day came to be celebrated in UK in 17th century known as Mothering Sunday, following the tradition of making a rich almond cake for mothers called 'Mothering Cake' or 'Simnel Cake'.

The history of celebratingMothering Sunday, or Mother's Day in Ireland, can be traced to the medieval practice where children from poor families were sent to work as domestic servants and apprentices to work with the rich. Once in the year in the middle of the Lent these children were given a day off to visit their 'Mother Church' and worship Virgin Mary. After visiting the Mother Church or Cathedral of their home town these children visited their mothers and presented them with flowers they picked along the way.

Mother's Day in Italy was celebrated for the first time on 12 May 1957, in the city of Assisi, thanks to the initiative of Rev, Otello Migliosi, parish priest of the Tordibetto church. This celebration was so successful that the following year it was adopted throughout Italy, where since then it is usually celebrated on the second Sunday in May.

How will you celebrate your mother this Mother's Day? Please share your thoughts below.

12:0AM, May 9th 2012

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