Mother’s Day and the Christian connection
Published: 11 May 2014 (GMT+10)
Over the centuries, celebration of mothers has appeared in varying forms and traditions since and possibly before Roman times.
In the 1600s the Church of England instigated Mothering Sunday in recognition of Mary the mother of Jesus. Later this religious celebration was expanded to include honouring all mothers. As time passed, this celebration slowly disappeared from the church calendar. [Ed. note: This was on the fourth Sunday of Lent (thus depending on when Easter falls). Though it has indeed disappeared for most non-English Christians, reader Chris K. (comment below) points out that in England itself, it remains very much alive.]
The seed for the Mother’s Day that is widely celebrated today in countries across the globe had its beginning in 1858 with Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis,1 a Christian who was working to heal the nation before, during and after the US Civil War. Her strategy was to promote and elevate the important role of mothers and help them to create healthier and more hygienic homes.
From this she instigated a ‘Mother’s Friendship Day’ which eventually developed into a national movement called ‘Mother’s Friendship Clubs’. At these clubs Ann would teach the mothers basic nursing and safe sanitation practices to be used in the home. She had learnt from her brother who was a famous physician.
This resulted in many lives being saved, and by offering this service to both sides of those involved in the Civil War, it was instrumental in facilitating the reconciliation process between Union and Confederate neighbours.
When Ann Maria Jarvis passed away after a long illness, one of her two daughters, Anna Marie Jarvis,2 decided to dedicate her life to her mother’s dream of a Mother’s Day to honour all mothers around the world.
Anna missed her mother greatly and felt children often neglected to appreciate their mother enough while she was still alive.
As a Sunday school teacher for 20 years at her church, she was very aware of the fifth of the Ten Commandments, “Honour your father and mother”, and no doubt would have taught this to her students.
She shared her desire to bring her mother’s dream to fruition, and this was readily accepted by her friends. In 1908, the first Sunday service honouring mothers was held at her church, and she handed out her mother’s favourite flower, the white carnation. At first, people observed Mother’s Day by attending church and writing letters to their mothers.
After much letter-writing and lobbying the Governors of Oklahoma and West Virginia, in 1910 the latter state proclaimed the second Sunday in May to be celebrated as Mother’s Day. The progressive acceptance of this celebration throughout the USA was breathtaking; by 1911 there was not one state that did not have its own observance of Mother’s Day.
On 9 May 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day3 and a national holiday. It was not long before the Mother’s Day celebration was embraced by other nations as far away as Japan, China, Africa, South America and some Asian countries.
Within 10 years, the rapid commercialization and exploitation of this sacred and joyous celebration for mothers caused Anna much grief. She went on to spend her inheritance fighting against the abuse of this Christian-based celebration and said that she wished she would never have started the day because it became so ‘out of control’.4
Despite Anna Jarvis’s misgivings, Mother’s Day has flourished all around the world. In the USA the second Sunday in May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and the telephone lines record their highest traffic.
However, let us not forget the original intention, which was to honour the mothers in our families, in our churches and in our society. As set out to the Israelites (and in fact commanded—and not just for one day of the year, nor to the exclusion of fathers) by God in tablets of stone and recorded in His Word, the Bible.
Today, people in the once-Christian West have progressively abandoned belief in the authority of God’s Word. Even many in the church see the Bible as basically a ‘book of stories’. They are continually taught that its all-important history in the Old Testament, particularly Genesis, cannot be true in the light of ‘science’. The Commandment before the one about honouring one’s parents, the Fourth Commandment, speaks plainly about God creating all things in six earth-rotation days, the same as those of our working week. No wonder that more and more folk are seeing them as the ‘10 suggestions’. Marriage and family are also no longer widely understood as the divinely-ordained institutions intended when God made Adam and Eve, and told them to be fruitful and multiply.
Mother’s Day (and, later in the year, the Father’s Day that rose up to complement it, appropriately) is therefore not only a time to honour our own mothers (fathers). Reflecting on its Christian origins can also lead us to consider the significance of all of the vital, associated propositional truth that God has given us in the Bible, the central focus of which is Jesus Christ and the wonderful salvation He offers.
So on this Mother’s Day, let’s remember its Christian connection, and give thanks to God for all that parents, guardians and carers do for children in their care.
References and notes
- Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, West Virginia State Archives, www.wvculture.org, 2014. Return to text.
- Ref. 1. Return to text.
- Document for May 9th: President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation of May 9, 1914, www.archives.gov, 2014. Return to text.
- Mother’s Day’s Dark History, news.nationalgeographic.com.au, 11 May 2012. Return to text.
I take issue with your comment "As time passed, this celebration slowly disappeared from the church calendar.", since this service is alive and well here in Britain. Conceivably, it may have become less traditional, but Mothering Sunday, as far as I can tell, has always been a church celebration, particularly in Anglican churches. Many websites will tell you variations of the following: In the past, it was considered important for people to return to their home or 'mother' church once a year. So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their 'mother' church - the main church or cathedral of the area. Inevitably the return to the 'mother' church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.) And most historians think that it was the return to the 'Mother' church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their mother and family. As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.
Thanks, Chris - see the editorial note we inserted as a corrective.