The second Sunday in May is not a date anyone would dare to forget, lest showered with cold shoulders and a lifetime of guilt. It’s Mother’s Day — that one day of the year where mummy dearests are served tea in bed, time to relax, and gifts to open.
But how did this internationally recognised day begin?
Throughout history, mothers have always held a role of protector and nurturer — a position procuring, quite rightly, some degree of worship and celebration. The Ancient Egyptians held two festivals a year celebrating Isis, the Goddess of Fertility and Motherhood, and beginning around the 5th Century, the ancient Greeks and Romans also held festivals honouring their maternal goddesses, Rhea and Cybele. Seventeenth century England introduced ‘Mothering Sunday’, celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent via a church service honouring the Virgin Mary, where after children would give gifts, fruit cake and flowers to their own mothers.
But with the custom almost dying out in the 19th century, it wasn’t until a couple of American feminist writers and activists pushed for a ‘mother’s day’ to be celebrated officially. With a background of the American Civil War, one activist, Julia Ward Howe wrote a passionate appeal to women, urging them to protest the war in her famous Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870.
Her idea spread, but it was not until the early 1900s, that it took off. Fellow American, Anna Jarvis, very much loved her social worker and activist mother, who before she died, often espoused that all mothers, living and dead, need to be honoured for all their contributions made to the home and society. Campaigning to fulfil her mother’s desire, she and her supporters lobbied for an official Mother’s Day holiday, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a document officially designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
It wasn’t long before the idea sailed across the Pacific, spurred along in the mid-1920s by Mrs Janet Heyden; a committee member for Sydney’s destitute women and children. Noticing how very lonely some of these women were, she brightened their day with little gifts of hairpins, hankies and soap. Later appealing to the general public through the newspapers to also assist and to remember the mothers of Sydney, she thus became the ‘pioneer’ of that one special day of the year that Aussie mums love best.