I wondered about the history of Mothering Sunday.

Celebrations of motherhood, and days devoted to mother-goddesses, are of course nothing new.

The Romans celebrated a holiday in honor of Cybele (a mother goddess) that fell in late March. The Greeks celebrated Rhea (the mother of the gods) and the Celts celebrated their own mother goddess Brigid, both also in spring. I assume that the bringing forth of new life is the connection, and the reason why mother celebrations are so linked to the springtime.

But what about the Christian celebration, held on the fourth Sunday of Lent? In England, it became traditional for children – especially daughters in domestic service – to be given a day off and return home during lent to visit their families. This custom grew into a Christian one tied to Easter, in which people would make offerings to their “mother” church.

(Is this just one more example of the church assimilating a pre-existing culture so as to appeal to the heathen masses? The pagans have a festival in winter – OK, let’s have one for the Christians too. The pagans celebrate motherhood in spring – right, let’s do that as well. Christianity is nothing if not adaptable, eh?)

But whichever way you look at it, the US version started by Anna Jarvis is altogether less attractive.

According to Wikipedia:

A year after her mother’s death she held a memorial to her mother on May 12, 1907, and then went on a quest to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday. She succeeded in making this nationally recognized in 1914. The International Mother’s Day Shrine still stands today in Grafton as a symobol of her accomplishments.

According to TheHistoryOf:

Anna’s personal life went a very different direction. She was so hurt by a disastrous love affair, that she never married. Every Mother’s Day brought her pain. She had originally meant Mother’s Day to be a religious observance. However, as commercialization hit the modern world, it got swept up in the flood of markets and profit.

Anna tried to sue the companies that were making money from her “sacred day”, with numerous litigations. But that, too, failed, and Anna became a recluse. She devoted her life to her blind sister, Elsinore; but then Elsinore died. It didn’t take Anna long to use up her life savings and, soon after, lose her home. All these negatives affected her health and, in November 1944, she had to apply for social assistance. Some of her friends gave her enough money to spend her final miserable years in a private sanitarium. Can you imagine her sitting there telling people that she “invented” Mother’s Day? Surely, they thought her to be deranged.

Finally, in 1948, at 84 years old, deaf, ailing and nearly blind, the woman who had such a warm idea, died feeling very cold. She wasn’t a mother herself. So she didn’t have anyone to visit her on Mother’s Day. It’s such a sad ending to what started out as such a happy story.

And so, according to History’s Women:

It must be noted that, while Miss Jarvis spent most of her adult life striving to create a special day to honor mothers, in the end, she was disappointed with the way Mother’s Day turned out. As the popularity of the holiday grew, so did it’s commercialization. What she had intended as a day of sentiment quickly turned into a day of profit. In the end, shortly before her death, Anna Jarvis told a reporter that she was sorry she ever started Mother’s Day.

I think I prefer the mother-goddess version. Don’t you?

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