History of Mother's Day

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap

Mark your calendars: This Sunday, May 13, is Mother's Day. And contrary to popular belief, the holiday did not rise up from the corporate brain trust of Hallmark and FTD florists. The day to celebrate mom has ancient roots.

The day can be traced to ancient Greece, which honored Rhea, mother of the gods, with offerings of honey cake, drinks, and flowers at dawn. The Romans built a temple for the mother of the gods, Magna Mater (Great Mother), and the Festival of Hilaria called for gifts to be brought to the temple to please the goddess.

In 17th-century England, early Christians reserved a day to honor Mary, the mother of Christ. By a later religious order all mothers began to be honored, and the day was christened "Mothering Sunday."

The holiday came to America when, in 1907, grateful daughter Anna Jarvis held a church service on May 12 in West Virginia to honor her late mother's work promoting women's groups for friendship and health. Within five years, almost every state was observing the day, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday.

According to History.com, the tradition of buying flowers on Mother's Day started with wearing carnations to honor moms -- white for a mother who had passed, and red or pink for the living -- and grew to be a more retail event involving cards and gifts. Jarvis, who felt the commercialization did not fit the spirit of the day, spent the last years of her life trying to abolish the holiday she had started.

But the spoiling of the matriarch has stuck, with moms still getting wined and dined on their special Sunday.