Mother and daughter on Mother’s Day / Image credit Freestockphotos.name
For florists and gift shops, Mothering Sunday is one of the busiest times of the year. But is it just another Hallmark day for retailers to make fortunes? We wanted to find out.
After doing research on Mother’s Day, what we discovered was pretty amazing. Behind the flowers, cards, chocolates and jewellery there are centuries of fascinating history.
The Mata Tirtha Aunshi festival in Nepal
One of the longest standing traditions that honours motherhood is a Hindu festival called Mata Tirtha Aunshi.
Meaning ‘Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight’, it has been celebrated for at least a few centuries and is still a custom in Nepal today. It takes place every April or May during the new moon.
Mother’s Day ritual in Nepal – photo by Sara Parker on Flickr.com
For the Nepalese people Mata Tirtha Aunshi is a time to visit and honour their mothers.
On a larger scale it is also a celebration of the mother-child bond, as well as a recognition of the importance of mothers in society.
During this time adult children usually travel home to visit their mothers, bringing with them sweets, fruits and other gifts.
Those whose mothers have passed away perform a special bathing ritual, pray 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
The earliest known festivities held to worship mothers date back to ancient Greece and Rome.
The Greeks dedicated an annual spring festival to Rhea, who was the mother of many of the gods found in Greek mythology.
In Rome, a cult feast called Hilaria was held in honour of Cybele, the goddess of motherhood and nature.
These ancient ceremonies were the forerunners of what’s known as Mothering Sunday in the UK today.
The Cibeles Fountain in Madrid depicting Cybele the Roman goddess of motherhood – Photo by Brian Prout on Flickr.com
Mothering Sunday in Britain
When Christianity began to spread through Europe, the Catholic Church adopted the pagan springtime motherhood festivals and turned them into a celebration to honour their own holy mother, the Virgin Mary.
Thanks to this by the 17th century, Mothering Sunday had become a well established religious custom in Britain. It was celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Wealthy households, tradesmen and merchants would send their servants and apprentices home on that day to visit their mothers.
It was also customary for children to bring their mothers a gift. This was usually a ‘mothering cake’, which later became known as the Easter Simnel Cake.
An Easter Simnel Cake or “mothering cake” – Photo by Edward on WikiPedia.org
Mother’s Day, lost and found
Sadly, the tradition of Mothering Sunday was eventually lost in Britain. By the end of the 19th century, the custom had disappeared almost completely.
Had it not been for two very determined ladies in America, this special holiday might never have been celebrated in the UK again.
Anna Jarvis birth place marker – photo by Jimmy Emerson DVM on Flickr.com
Anna Jarvis and her mother
Anna Jarvis was an American social activist during the beginning of the 1900’s. In the US, she is often referred to as the Mother of Mother’s Day.
Anna Jarvis was influenced by her own mother, who had witnessed the sacrifices made by women during the tough years of the American Civil War.
As her dying wish, Mrs. Jarvis Senior hoped that in the future a national day would be established in honour of all mothers.
After her mother passed away, Anna Jarvis wrote letters to many powerful people, campaigning for the cause.
In 1914 she was rewarded when President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday in May as the official Mother’s Day in the US.
Mothers defending their families during the American Civil War – painting by Mort Künstler / CivilWarTalk.com
Mother’s Day in the UK today
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.
The carnation was Anna Jarvis’ mother’s favourite flower – photo credit Wallpaper.org
The Mother’s Day gifting 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.
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