A day devoted entirely to pampering Mum. But which one are we referring to?
In the UK we will are celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend. The cards and gift suggestions have been on display in the shops for several weeks already. I have always believed Mother’s Day to be the only genuine article, viewing other related festivals such as Father’s Day and even Sibling’s Day to be simply constructs of the greetings card industry. So I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day itself is actually a fairly recent construct.
I always assumed that in Britain we celebrated ‘Mothering Sunday’, which is a Christian festival dating back to the 1600s and involves saying prayers in church to honour the Virgin Mary. But according to my research, this festival died out in the 19th Century. The custom of adhering to Mother’s Day was only taken up again when American servicemen re-introduced the concept during World War Two. So, although in the UK we tend to celebrate Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday in Lent, it is to the American tradition that we owe the revival of this annual festival to honour mums.
In the US, the custom was introduced by Anna Jarvis, who ran a campaign to have a date set in the calendar to honour all mums. Her own mother, Ann Jarvis, had been a prominent peace campaigner during the American Civil War. In 1908, Jarvis got her way, and Mother’s Day had begun. Now, more than 46 countries follow suit and the day most commonly falls in May around the world. Within a few years, however, Jarvis herself was complaining that the true meaning of Mother’s Day had been lost and replaced by blatant commercialism. Sadly, there has been no real change in this state of affairs in the decades since.
What has always perplexed me about the custom, is that in order to properly honour the tradition of Mother’s Day we need first to clarify a few things. I am a mum and will expect to get a card from my children to recognise the role I play in their lives (bought by Dad or made at school, of course). Then there is also my mum, for whom I shall purchase an appropriate card and gift. Then, there is my mother-in-law and I imagine that many mums will be required to buy cards and pressies or send flowers on behalf of their spouse (which I don’t have to do, I swiftly add).
Okay. Simple enough, yes? Well, not exactly, because although there is a grandparents day (which falls on the 7th October this year) my children usually want to send a card to my mum on Mother’s Day too. They see her regularly, as my parents live nearby, and she has helped to bring them up (As happens in many families these days, where grandparents are required to provide childcare). So, we will have a Gran card and a Mum card to deliver. Now, it’s becoming more complicated, and we don’t have yet another layer to add to the conundrum – the Great-Gran – or even the Great-Great-Gran – which many families are also blessed to possess.
Then comes the greatest puzzle of them all. How and where to spend the day. If we are truly honouring the mum of young children and babes-in-arms, I can promise you that she will want a day spent entirely on her own – at a spa hotel ideally – or possibly just sleeping undisturbed in her own bed. But mum’s of grown-up children will want to see the whole family – their lovely daughters included. That’s not even getting into the thorny issue of whether it’s the husband or the wife’s mother that you spend the day with. To be frank, the entire concept is a bit of a minefield.
Is there a solution? Much as I’m loathe to add emphasis to another ‘day’ – perhaps Grandparents Day should be made more of, especially in modern times when our parents often provide the burden of childcare. It seems a bit mean not to honour this contribution more publicly. It would then be a lot easier to source a card with the appropriate terminology!
It would also be great if we could cut some of the commercialisation. I don’t require a gift. I love those cards with collages of daffodils and tulips made from tissue paper that get brought back from school. It’s all I need.
Let’s simplify the whole process, so that Mother’s Day doesn’t turn into a headache for those very people it’s meant to honour and respect.