The original purpose of Mother’s Day, first proposed by Anna Marie Jarvis in 1907, was for children to take the time to express appreciation to their mothers. Jarvis envisioned a simple tradition in which each child hand-wrote a note to their mother thanking her for all that she had done throughout the year.
President Woodrow Wilson declared the day a national holiday in 1914, and from that point on, as far as Jarvis was concerned, it went downhill. The holiday became widely commercialized in the early 1920s when handwritten thank-you notes were replaced with purchased cards, flowers, and gifts. There was money to be made on Mother’s Day, and, while the initial sentiment was still there, the holiday has a very long history of being shaped by economic profit. According to the Financial Post, Canadians are planning on spending a whopping $492 million for Mother’s Day this year.
In the U.K., the equivalent holiday to Mother’s Day, which is celebrated in March, is called “Mothering Sunday.” Perhaps that would be a better name for the North American holiday as well.
In terms of having a tradition in which children express gratitude to the women who do so much for them, we seem to have completely lost the original concept. More and more, we are celebrating the different kinds of mothering that so many women do: the mothering of their husbands, the mothering of their brothers, the mothering of their friends, and, even the mothering of their pets.
Of course, women have always done these things. The only difference today is that the market has finally figured out that commercialization of “mothering” is more profitable than the commercialization of children’s appreciation.
This is clearly visible in the stores – for example I almost didn’t recognize my normal grocery store today because it has been rearranged with Mother’s Day in mind. Lots of cakes, cards, and giant bouquets of flowers set up right by the entrance – I guess that is for the desperate consumer so they don’t have to do a mad dash through the store, potentially knocking people over on their quest. Am I against cake, cards, or flowers? Absolutely not. In fact, I have baking plans of my own for my mother.
I go back to that Financial Post article from this morning which says that Mother’s Day is seen to be too commercial by 45% of Canadians, although many more intend to acknowledge the day with a gift. While most of us love our mothers, perhaps this is signaling the fact that Canadians don’t buy into the commercial aspects of the day, although there is still a lot of evidence to the contrary. According to the same article, the number 1 thing mom wants this Mother’s Day is to spend time with her immediate family. While the actual physical card you give your mother probably doesn’t matter much to her, the sentiments you personally pen inside are likely worth much more than their weight in gold, which is something I’m sure Jarvis would appreciate.