The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


May 7, 2008

Why Mother's Day?

Many interesting stories exist on how Mother's Day, which is actually celebrated in many parts of the world, got its start. Several sources say the history is centuries old and can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, the mother of the gods. Then in the 1600s early Christians in England celebrated a day to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. Later in England a religious order expanded the holiday to include all mothers and was named "Mothering Sunday." It was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. With Christianity's spread in Europe the celebration was changed to honor the "Mother Church." In time, though, the two celebrations blended so people honored their mothers and the church.

Interestingly, in the U.S. Mother's Day was really first suggested by social activist Julia Ward Howe (remember her as the person who wrote the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"?). She had something different in mind from what we know today. She really was protesting the senselessness of sons killing the sons of other mothers during the Civil War. Howe composed a plea often considered to be the original Mother's Day proclamation, which said in part: "Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears. Say firmly: 'We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'"

The history of the day continued up to Anna Jarvis, who graduated from the Female Seminary in Wheeling, W. Va.—the woman credited with introducing Mother's Day as we today celebrate it. She remained single and cared for her ailing mother in Philadelphia. When her mother died, she missed her—and she thought children often neglected to appreciate their mother enough during the mother's lifetime. Her campaign to establish a national day resulted in the first Mother's Day on May 10, 1908. It was in 1914, however, that a resolution was introduced and passed both Houses, making Mother's Day a U.S. holiday to be held each year on the second Sunday of May. Of course, it was only a matter of time that the celebration became completely commercialized.

Be that as it may, this coming Sunday (and any day of any month, for that matter!) remains a good time to thank not only your mother and your grandmothers but all women in your life who have nurtured and guided you. I often send cards of thanks on Mother's Day to my daughters-in-law, to friends—single or married, to my sister and to other female mentors in my life.

Mother's Day isn't just for those who have had children; it's a great day to celebrate women who have given birth to ideas, programs and dreams—to celebrate women who have had an impact on our lives in any way. So here's to you all!



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