When Is Mother’s Day?

Featured Article, Seasonal, Traditions
on February 3, 2013

Mother’s Day is celebrated on different days around the world. In the United States (and many other nations), it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May and accompanied by the showering of mothers with flowers, chocolates, gifts and a day off from household and other responsibilities. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Ancient roots. The spiritual roots of Mother’s Day, according to Mother’s Day Central, began thousands of years ago. Unlike the modern tradition of treating human mothers like goddesses, the ancient Egyptians took their revered goddess, Isis, and gave her the attributes of a caring mother. This ancient spiritual practice of assigning mother-like characteristics to deities was not isolated to Egypt. The Romans, too, offered a place for the Egyptian goddess in their temples and celebrated the Festival of Isis to mark the beginning of winter. The goddesses Cybele and Rhea were honored in Ancient Anatolia where Phrygians honored a “Mother Goddess (Cybele), whose realm was the earth’s mountains and caverns, natural surroundings and wild animals.” The Ancient Greek version of Cyble was named Rhea, the Greek mother of the gods.

European origins. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the polytheistic traditions of the ancients, including the worshiping of a mother goddess, gave way to new religious traditions. The honoring of a sacred mother, however, remained as European Christians used the same concept to honor the Virgin Mary, mother of the Christian God. In the 17th century, celebrations broadened from just honoring the Virgin Mary to honoring real mothers. This day would come to be called Mothering Day. In modern-day England, Mothering Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

American origins. One of the things American settlers did not bring with them was the Mothering Day tradition. Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 is regarded as the first conceptualized day honoring mothers in the United States. This day was set as June 2. Although Howe’s holiday fizzled after she stopped funding Mother’s Day celebrations, the idea was picked up in 1908 by Anna Jarvis, who convinced her church in West Virginia to hold a Mother’s Day service on May 10. By 1909, 46 states held Mother’s Day celebrations. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day and in 1914, Mother’s Day became a National Day of Observance to be held the second Sunday each May.