Mother’s Day Origins
The second Sunday of May for as long as I can remember has always presented an interesting conundrum for me. It’s almost an early practice run for Christmas time. If you didn’t know, this Sunday the entire nation will be “celebrating” Mother’s Day.
In Harlem, many will begin this day by accompanying their mother to church to show mom how grateful to God you are for her. The Pastor will have his pick from a good batch of heroine mothers in the Bible. There’s the virtuous woman from Proverbs, the story of Ana who promised her son Samuel to God in exchange for the miracle of childbirth, or the story of the two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child before King Solomon.
Church will be followed by a nice lunch or dinner somewhere special. That’s not so hard is it?! The hard part is finding what to buy mom. If your mother is anything like my mother, the task becomes nearly impossible. That’s because my mother is one of those with very little attachments to earthly posessions. You’d think this would be admirable and pious, but it makes buying any kinds of gift a big headache. She makes her own perfumes and soaps so I can’t get her any of that. She’s lost weight and has rediscovered all sorts of unused clothes that she now fits into so I can’t get her any dresses. These days we (her kids) do our own cooking so it’s not like she’s laboring in the kitchen enough to warrant a new set of pots. Like I said…impossible! I’m sure every son and daughter in Harlem is feeling their own pressure to find mom the right gift. (Quick tip: If you’re mother is one of those old-school church goers, you can’t go wrong with a brand new Sunday hat.)
Amidst all the craziness I ask myself, ‘Who the heck came up with this holiday?’. It was actually imported over from Mother Britain not long after the American Civil War by a woman named Julia Ward Howe. Julia was born in NYC to well-to-do family. Appalled by the carnage wrought on by the American Civil War, Julia called on mother’s everywhere to unite against war. She wrote her famous Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 where she called on women to become pioneers of change in their political environment around them and foster peace. Despite her fervor and the amount of women she had rallied behind her, she was unsuccessful in getting an official recognition of Mother’s Day.
Another woman named Ann Jarvis who also organized women to promote sanitary conditions on both sides of the Civil War was a Sunday School teacher in a church in West Virginia where Mother’s day was first celebrated. The “fire” caught on to many other states and in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday. It was established as a memorial day where American citizens can honor those mothers who had lost children to the war. The years to follow brought on the over-commercialization of mother’s day to the point where descendants of Ann Jarvis became staunch opponents of what it had become.
So, it is now 2008. We are yet again a nation at war in Iraq and (though mentioned to a much lesser extent) Afghanistan. And with Sunday coming up you will see a flurry of commercials telling you, in not-so-many-words, to “Go out and buy mom something nice if you really love her!” You will also find those who will blast the media and big companies for preying on Americans’ sentiments for a couple of extra bucks. I, for one, am of the belief that things can be modernized, jazzed up, and reinterpreted to match the needs of the new generation so long as the foundation remains undisturbed. There is nothing insincere about taking your mother out to a fancy dinner on Sunday, getting her some new jewelry, or buying her that new set of cooking pots that she hinted at some months ago. Anything that favors honoring our mothers is to be praised. Plus, we are teetering on the edge of a recession.
However, let us not forget that Mother’s Day was founded on two main principles. One, that we as a nation should be a leader of peace as much as reasonably possible. Two, we should honor those mothers who have sons and daughters on active duty abroad, especially those whose children have lost their lives at war. It should also be a reminder of the roots that many women pioneers have laid to ensure women’s equality and suffrage rights and of the road that is left to pave.
Finally, I would like to wish all mothers and mothers-to-be a blessed Mother’s Day.