An Alternative Celebration
Mothers Day is just around the corner, a day to honour the women who gave us life and to make them feel special. Time to crank out our credit cards and wallets to purchase the flowers, chocolates, greeting cards and gifts whilst our mothers lift their feet and lay in leisure for this one treasured day. But is it necessary?
When it comes to national days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even Valentine’s Day there tends to be a mixed reaction to the relevance of these traditions. Some people will argue they have been swamped by commercialism, others saying you should honour your loved ones on every day of the year and of course the insensitivity of not having that specific person in your life when the day comes. I for one lost count of the amount of depressing messages on my Facebook wall of single people complaining about Valentine’s Day and its complete irrelevance to them. With all of these feelings in the air the question arises, is Mother’s Day necessary?
First let’s dive into the often obscure history of these annual celebrations. Mother’s Day first began in the United States by an activist named Anna Jarvis, who in memorial to her own mother, wanted to create a national day where people honour their mothers both living and dead. After tireless campaigns a proclamation was signed in 1914 officially creating Mother’s Day, a day to spend time with your mother showing your appreciation for her love.
Across the ocean in the UK however a much more religious tradition was occurring called Mothering Sunday which is on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This was the day children who worked as domestic servants were given the day off to visit their mothers and families, picking up flowers on the way to give as a small gift to their mothers. During WW2 the American tradition of Mother’s Day came to the UK which soon merged with Mothering Sunday, now Mother’s Day is celebrated on the same day, the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Decades later Mother’s Day has become a huge annual tradition celebrated by many, which brings us to the first issue people have with it; commercialism. After Jarvis established Mother’s Day confectioners and department stores grabbed hold of this new trend by selling Mother’s Day themed cards and gifts. To this day we see flowers, confectionary, jewellery and of course greeting cards which are sold if we need a last minute gift for our mothers.
This brings about the argument, should appreciating your mother involve spending like crazy? In the UK approximately 30 million cards are bought on Mother’s Day, people can often feel pressured to spend in order to show good will on these occasions, branding expert Jonathan Gabay said,
“Mother’s Day has become a yearly windfall to business. It’s an opportunity to market everything from cut flowers and greetings cards to nostalgic CDs, perfume and beauty products.”
So what can be done differently? Professor Ralph Fevre offers her take, “we don’t want the day to disappear or for people to stop treating their mothers. We just want people to focus on what the day is about and not just grab a card and bunch of flowers from a petrol station on the way over to their mum’s house,” she says.
“It’s inevitable that businesses will see the day as a way to make money, but most mothers would be happier with a homemade card because it shows some thought and effort has been put into it.”
American writer Anne Lamott offered another gripe which is the exclusion of other people who cannot celebrate the auspicious day, in other words non mothers and people who don’t have mothers. She argued that such people will feel failure or even grief considering the subject of the day, “they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark… It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents.”
This echoes single people similarly complaining on Valentine’s Day, though I wonder how Lamott would feel knowing Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to commemorate mothers who have passed away too? Not only did Jarvis die childless but also started Mother’s Day for her own late mother! But this was when Mother’s Day was celebrated in the early 1900s for less commercial reasons.
But is it really all bad? Many people today are finding more varied ways of honouring motherhood which may make Jarvis proud. American group ‘Moms Demand Action’ will be marching in their eighth annual ‘Mother’s Day Eve March Against Gun Violence’ where they will be honouring mothers who have lost their children to gun violence on what will clearly be a difficult day for them. Professor Fevre even revealed she worked on a cake stall on Mother’s Day to raise money for HIV mothers in Africa.
In the end how and if you choose to celebrate Mother’s Day is a personal choice, let’s not forget Anna Jarvis’s purpose for Mother’s Day, “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” As illustrated by ‘Moms Demand Action’ you can still recognise Mother’s Day with your own twist on the tradition, it is after all a day to honour mothers. Maybe we can take a leaf out of the book of children on Mothering Sunday and pick some of our own flowers.