Vol. XII, No. 137, May 2013
Motherís Day: Its Noble Origins and
By M.P. PRABHAKARAN
Today is Motherís Day in America. For several weeks now, the electronic and print media in the country have been carrying advertisements and special programs associated with Motherís Day. Most of them remind us of the importance of remembering our mother, at least on this day, and of letting her know how much we love her. The question is: Why should one wait for this day to express oneís love for his or her mother?
More important, how can businesses in the country stoop so low as to exploit oneís love for his mother to promote their products and services? Take the ad that appeared on the home page of my Internet provider, for example. Usually, the home page displays the latest news. This one started with the headline line ď1 CT Sapphire and Diamond White Gold Ring Ė Only $175.Ē I mistook it for a news item, until I read the text below, which said:
ďThis Mother's Day, show her how much you really care by treating her to a unique ring design that bears a timeless appeal. Crafted in lustrous 10K white gold, this delicate accessory showcases a breathtaking 1-carat blue sapphire centerpiece framed by intricate diamond filigree ornaments. Offer her a treasure she will cherish forever. Every mother deserves her time to shine!Ē
The ad kept repeating, replacing the product advertised with a slightly different gold ring, which the ad says ďis bound to take [your motherís] breath away.Ē
My Internet provider has every right to make money by selling space on its customer home page. And any company that has a product to sell will look for all possible ways of reaching its prospects. But should it be at the cost of commercializing oneís love for his or her mother? Who in the world told the manufacturer of this ring Ė ICE (I donít care to know what the three letters stand for) Ė that a motherís love is something that can be bought over with a gift, no matter how attractive it be?
The question may be out of place in the modern era in which even the holiest of all holidays, Christmas, has been commercialized to a sickening level. And when it comes to commercializing holy days, Motherís Day occupies a place second only to Christmas.
While celebration of motherhood is the underlying theme of the holiday, different countries observe it on different days. In the U.S., where it is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, its origin is different from that in Europe. In Europe, it originated from the 16th century Christian tradition of workers' visiting their mothersí churches once a year. In England, the day on which they did it came to be called Mothering Sunday. It did so because, when the industrial era began, it became customary for masters of trades and homes to give one Sunday off every year for young men and women working under them as apprentices and servants. The purpose was to enable them to reunite with their mothers at least once year. In England and Ireland, Mothering Sunday, later renamed Motherís Day, is observed three weeks before Easter Sunday. Though the day got secularized in due course, there are churches in those two countries which still observe Motherís Day with ceremonies dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with those invoking the concept of Mother Church.
The origin of Motherís Day in the U.S. has no religious trappings. It has been traced to the work done by a young Appalachian homemaker called Anna Reeves Jarvis. She started her work, initially aimed at improving sanitation, as early as 1858. Throughout the Civil War period (1861-65), she organized women and tried to bring better sanitary conditions on both Union and Confederate sides.
Her work inspired a social activist called Julia Ward Howe who, after the Civil War, started a campaign to unite women against war. Howe, it may be added, was the author of the ďBattle Hymn of the Republic.Ē In 1872, she initiated and promoted what was called Motherís Day for Peace, observed on June 2. The following year, women in 18 cities across America celebrated the day. Women of Boston continued the celebrations for another decade. But they phased out eventually when Howe stopped underwriting their costs. Her source of inspiration, Anna Reeves Jarvis, died in 1905.
Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, refused to let the noble cause her mother worked for die with her. At her motherís grave, she took a vow not to rest until she realized her motherís lifelong dream of creating a national day to honor all mothers.
With that goal in mind, in 1907, she launched a campaign. Initially, the campaign was limited to handing out white carnations to those who went to worship at her motherís church, in Grafton, West Virginia. The following year, responding to her request, the church held a special Sunday service in honor of all mothers. Churches in 46 states followed suit the next year. From then onward, Anna Jarvis dedicated herself to a full-time letter-writing campaign, imploring politicians, clergymen and civic leaders to institute a national day for mothers.
Congress Passes Motherís Day Resolution
Her tireless work was rewarded in 1912, when West Virginia, her home state, adopted an official Motherís Day. The ultimate triumph came two years later, on May 9, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution passed by the United States Congress, declaring the first national Motherís Day. The resolution was a victory for, and in celebration of, motherhood. Ironically, Anna Jarvis, the greatest proponent of motherhood the country ever produced, had no children.
The joy Anna felt did not last long. She was upset by the way Motherís Day soon got commercialized. ďI wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit,Ē she lamented. She died on November 24, 1948.
One wonders what her reaction would be if she were alive today and exposed to the deplorable advertisements that have been coming out on the eve of Motherís Day. It is mainly to share Annaís disgust that I decided to write this piece. At the same time, I have no illusion that any effort on anyone's part would stop the crass commercialization of Motherís Day that has been going on every year. Some of the advertisements are a disgrace to motherhood.
There are also those who, while not being guilty of commercializing motherhood, demean it inadvertently. They do it by expressing their love for their mother in a formulaic and perfunctory manner. Expressing even the most natural sentiments in a formulaic and perfunctory manner is very much an American trait.
On Motherís Day last year, I was upset when I noticed that trait even in my favorite New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman. Dedicating his column to Motherís Day, he appealed to his readers to ďCall Your Mother.Ē Disappointed, I sent a letter to The Times (which, understandably, the paper didnít publish). My letter said:
ďThe sentiments expressed by Thomas L. Friedman in his May 11  column are touching. I would go a step further and implore you to call your mother as often as you can, not just on Motherís Day, and keep her in your thoughts all the time.
ďCalling Mother on Motherís Day and Father on Fatherís Day is an American custom, given rise to by the American way of life. As more and more old parents began to be shipped to nursing homes, it became necessary to remind the children to connect with their parents at least once a year. Thus began the practice of their calling, or sending flowers to, parents on Motherís day or Fatherís Day. Whoever thought the practice that arose out of such a noble purpose would over time become so formulaic and commercialized?
ďThere is a way out: Take care of your parents all the time. If for reasons beyond your control they have to be put in a nursing home, or are living away from you, visit them as often as you can. If you are not in a position to do either, call them as frequently as possible. Donít wait for an Internet, telephone or flower company to remind you of the importance of doing it.
ďSure, those companies do have a right to make money. But let them look for other ways of doing it, not by cashing in on your love for your parents.Ē
(Published on May 12, 2013)
(Readers are invited to comment. Send the comments to email@example.com)
(The article is a slightly edited version of what appeared in this space on May 10, 2009.)
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