The history of Mother’s Day |

The history of Mother’s Day

For those of you who might not be up to speed on your second tier holidays, this Sunday is Mother’s Day. If you have a mom, are married to someone who is a mom, if you suspect someone you work with might be mom and especially if you are with someone who is about to become a mom buy her a gift!

If you’re not sure if it’s appropriate to buy someone a Mother’s Day gift, play it safe and spring for some flowers or candy. No one was ever slowly poisoned with antifreeze for giving a woman too many gifts. My daughter has watched every episode of Snapped ever made so I know these things.

For years I believed Mother’s Day was a made up holiday created to sell flowers and greeting cards. While it is true that a butt load of cards and flowers are sold on Mother’s Day each year, the holiday itself has deep historic roots. In ancient Greek mythology there were spring festivals held in honor of the goddess Rhea, believed to be the mother of many deities or as CNN would have reported it (MOMD).

Centuries later the Romans held a three-day shindig on the Ides of March called Hilaria celebrating the mother goddess Cybele. Hilaria wasn’t so much about giving flowers to your mom as it was parades in the street, making “motherhood” offerings at the temple, playing games and having masquerades. Sounds kind of like a cross between Mardi Gras and spring break with a slight acknowledgement to motherhood. I can see myself wearing a “Hilaria XXVCMII” T-shirt. Party on Commodus!

In the Middle Ages things became a lot more solemn when the English started celebrating Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Lent. OK, using the word celebrating might have been a bit of a stretch — they held prayer services in honor of the Virgin Mary then the kids gave flowers to their mom. More accurately they gave flowers to their ‘mum”; it was England after all.

Some broad named Anna Jarvis is known to have browbeaten … I mean convinced President Wilson into recognizing Mother’s Day as a holiday on the second Sunday in May back in 1914. There’s nothing to support the rumor that Ms. Jarvis, who wasn’t a mother herself, actually wanted Wilson to grant women the right to vote but settled for Mother’s Day, some flowers and breakfast at Denny’s as a consolation prize. American women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 so it could be true.

If you’re like me and have no idea what an appropriate Mother’s Day gift is it’s safe to buy her flowers, in fact, one fourth of all of the flowers sold in the US are sold on Mother’s Day. I would have guessed the day after Valentines Day, that’s when thoughtless jerks who forgot Valentines Day buy flowers to suck up … so I’m told.

If you don’t know what kind of flowers to buy for Mother’s Day, I know I don’t, apparently you can’t go wrong with carnations. Well actually you can go wrong with carnations because some jerk made up rules about the appropriate color of carnations to buy. It seems pink and red are for living mothers and white one are for mothers who have passed away. I can tell you from experience that if you go in at the last minute there are usually only white ones left. This finally explains why I’ve been in the doghouse every Mother’s Day … I thought they knew I had just remembered because I got stuck with the white ones. Who knew?

In Yugoslavia the Mother’s Day tradition was for children to tie up their mothers and the mothers would bribe their way free by giving treats to her kids. I had a mother, I’ve been married to mothers, my sisters and daughters are mothers and I can tell you this tradition had no chance of ever working out, mother’s just don’t work like that. Yugoslavia doesn’t exist as a nation anymore…that may be just a coincidence but I wouldn’t bet on it.

It turns out that there’s more to this whole Mother’s Day thing than just selling greeting cards. It’s not too late to start your Hilaria party this morning and make this Mother’s Day really special, the mother of all parties or the MOAP

Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at