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Mother's Day

Mother's Day is coming up this Sunday, 26th April. But only in the UK, Ireland and Nigeria! America's Mother's Day happens in early May along with Australia and a bunch of other countries. So why the difference? Why isn't it the same day? How did Mother's Day come about? Well...

In the sixteenth century, christians would return home on the 'Laetare Sunday' (4th Sunday in Lent) to their 'mother' church i.e. where they were baptized. The Sunday is considered a day of relaxation from normal Lenten rigours; a day of hope with Easter at last within sight. Traditionally, weddings (otherwise banned during Lent) could be performed on this day and servants were released from service for the day to visit their mothers. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions. On their way home, they would pick flowers along the way and give to the church and to their mums. They were said to have gone 'a-mothering' (hence 'Mothering Sunday').

However, the Mother's Day of today was founded by an American woman, Anna Jarvis, the daughter of a peace activist, Ann Jarvis. Ann Jarvis, had attempted to establish a version of Mother's Day during the Civil War as a time for remembrance. After the holiday failed to catch on, Anna recalled hearing her mother pray for a memorial day for mothers. When her mother died in May, 1905 on May 9th, Anna campaigned to complete what her mother had started. Several years later, she held a Church service, and gave away carnations, her mother's favorite flower, to all that attended. Red and pink carnations were to be worn for living mothers, and white for those who had passed away. Anna wanted all to attend church and afterward, for children to spend time writing a note of appreciation to their mothers. Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Anna's zealous letter writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She was assisted by well-heeled backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day. By 1911, Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state of the Union. And in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the official announcement proclaiming Mother's Day as a national holiday that was to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.

Although Anna Jarvis was the founder of Mother's Day, she soon became it's biggest opponent. By the early '20s, Hallmark Cards and other companies started selling Mother's Day cards. Anna hated how the companies were exploiting the idea of Mother's Day and commercializing the holiday, so she started organizing boycotts of Mother's Day, as well as threatening to issue law suits against the companies involved. She claimed that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts, flowers and pre-made cards. She describe the cards as "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write." Anna protested at the candy maker's convention in Philadephia in 1923, and a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925. By this time, carnations had become associated with Mother's Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Meanwhile in 1913 and in the UK, a vicar's daughter, Constance Adelaide Smith read about Anna Jarvis' efforts and decided to revive Mothering Sunday in the UK. With the First World War beginning in 1914 for the next 4 years, many mothers lost their sons and Mothering Sunday soon became an observed day throughout the British Empire. By 1938 Mothering Sunday had become a popular celebration with Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and various parishes across Britain marking the day and communities adopting the imported traditions of American and Canadian soldiers during the war. By the 1950s, 'Mother's Day' was being celebrated widely throughout Britain as businesses realised the commercial opportunities.

UK Mother's Day is this Sunday, April 26th and Mother's Day in the US falls on Sunday, May 14th.


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