Happy Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day here in the States, the lovely day each spring when we honor our mothers: those we were given, and those we have chosen, and indeed all the mothers in our lives. It’s been a long time since we’ve delved into the history of Mother’s Day here on the blog, but it’s a rather fascinating tale. The celebration is not a terribly old one, as holidays go. It was 1914 –– one hundred nine years ago –– when President Woodrow Wilson designated the Second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. Behind Woodrow Wilson’s action was Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia woman whose life, as it turns out, was consumed by Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis championed the establishment and recognition of the holiday with great passion. But once the day was out of the box, as it were, it took on a life of its own. By 1920, Mother’s Day was already far too commercial for Anna, and she spent the rest of her life militantly fighting that commercialism. It became a lifelong obsession, in fact.

Mother’s Day has its roots in the 1850s when Jarvis’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized women’s groups to deal with local community issues like disease and sanitation. When the Civil War began, the groups turned their attention to caring for injured soldiers on both sides, Union and Confederate. Anna Reeves Jarvis called these groups Mother’s Day Work Clubs. It was her hope that a Memorial Mother’s Day be established in the country to honor the many important roles that mothers play in their communities. After Ann’s passing in 1905, her daughter Anna picked up that torch. She sought to memorialize her mother with the idea that each person would honor their own mother, too, in a special Mother’s Day observance. She did this in Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. She was living there in Philadelphia, but Mother’s Day was also observed that year at a little church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna was raised, that same day. Anna began making the observance of Mother’s Day her life’s work, and she was a great success at it. It took only six years more before Mother’s Day was being celebrated nationally.

But Anna soon came to despise her creation. Florists, candy shops, and a burgeoning greeting card industry were all quick to jump on the Mother’s Day bandwagon, and nothing irritated Anna Jarvis more. In her eyes, Mother’s Day was a day to go home and spend with your mom. Plain and simple. Anything more than that, she felt, was sacrilege and she grew more and more adamant about this as the years passed. She organized boycotts and public demonstrations and she was even arrested once or twice for disturbing the peace after crashing trade shows touting Mother’s Day gifts. Anna fought the commercialization of Mother’s Day with every last penny of her rather large inheritance, and she died broke and probably insane in 1948 at a Philadelphia sanitarium.

But this is what we do, no? We turn holidays into shopping events. Anna Jarvis, I imagine, might not be very fond of me, either. I write about all these holidays and offer all kinds of ways to spend your money with Convivio Bookworks, too. And while I’m not trying to get you to buy a bunch of unnecessary plastic objects or other impersonal factory-produced goods, I do still encourage you to buy things. I think, personally, that it’s a bit better in that what we offer are artisan-made goods that are authentic to their original regions and mostly handmade… but still, I’m sure Convivio Bookworks would be on Anna Jarvis’s hit list, were she around today. She would not be pleased.

Nowadays, Mother’s Day is the third biggest holiday for gift giving. Each year, Mother’s Day sales account for more greeting cards sold than any other holiday save Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It is one of the more impossible days to get a good table at a restaurant. But all that Anna Jarvis asks is that you go pay the mothers in your life a visit on Mother’s Day. Nothing more. When you get right down to it, it’s the best present.

Image: “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,” an illustration by Joseph Martin Kronheim (for the nursery rhyme about the woman who had so many children she knew not what to do) from My First Picture Book. London & New York: George Routledge and Sons, publisher, circa 1875. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

A reminder, too, that these mid-May days bring the time known in many parts of Europe as the Days of Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Often this is the time of the final frost of the season, or at the very least, a drop in temperature. Read more about Die Eisheiligen by clicking here.




6 thoughts on “Happy Mother’s Day

  1. mary beth shipley says:

    Great information, thank you. And you and I were both blessed with great Italian, mothers and grandmothers thank the Lord and may they have a beautiful heavenly day!

    If there are kitchens in those heavenly mansions, I bet they are cooking up a storm!

    • John Cutrone says:

      We do seem to live meal-centered lives in our family, Mary Beth. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you, as always, for commenting!

  2. Bernice Strul says:

    It’s been a really long time since I looked in on Convivio,but tonight’s read is perfect. My husband & I have just moved to Minneapolis to live near our new, baby grandson & his parents. This morning we went to the local farmers’ market & yes we bought some wonderful things. Locally made, delicious smelling soaps, beautiful crocheted baby toys,the yummiest bread & locally grown veggies. Then the rain washed out our brunch plans – we had reserved outdoor seating. But it was so much nicer eating together at home.Then we sat outside in the sun which appeared after the little rain & pulled out some weeds in the garden while the baby watched. My daughter & I proclaimed it a perfect Mother’s Day.
    I just want to thank you for all the wonderful times I have enjoyed visiting the Jaffe Library. It was an amazing place to bring my mother, my friend I were part of the Friday Snail Mail group when there were about 6 people & I loved talking to Arthur Jaffe once when I was waiting for my husband to listen to you talk. Well there’s lots more, but a big thanks.
    As always,

    • John Cutrone says:

      How funny, Bernice: I was just thinking of you yesterday! Your Mother’s Day sounded just right, rain and all. And thank you for coming to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts so often. We’re still there, plugging away, making it better and better, or so I think. And Real Mail Fridays has taken on a life of its own now in its online version. We meet virtually almost every Friday from 2 to 5 Eastern via JCBA Zoom and have garnered a loyal following: folks from all over the world. Lately we are seeing Real Mail pals in the US and Canada, plus Romania, the Philippines, and Turkey. Minneapolis folks are certainly welcome to join us (as is everyone)… there’s a Real Mail Fridays link at http://www.jaffecollection.org and it’s the same Zoom link and password every week. It would be nice to see you there, too, Bernice!

  3. Kathleen Maugeri says:

    Just finished the Mothers Day post. Thank you! Just wanted you to know that even though we gave a purchased gift we loved doing it. This year we gave a new mother, a friend, who was born in a Ukraine, a beautiful pysanky egg for her new little girl. Without your purchase from Kyrylo and then posting on your site, we could not have done this. New little Lily and Mom and Dad now have a beautiful connection to her homeland. Thank you so much for being the conduit.

    • John Cutrone says:

      Oh this is so sweet, Kathleen. Anna Jarvis seems to me a bit extreme and I don’t get along so well with anyone who is that way. If you create a special day like Mother’s Day you’ve got to expect that people will want to do something nice for their mothers, too, aside from just visiting. People like to shop. I certainly do. And I feel much better about it when I know my purchases are actually supporting real people and their cultural traditions. Hence the basic Convivio Bookworks business model. I imagine Lily and her mom & dad will grow to treasure that pysanka egg from Ukraine, as I know our friend Kyrylo and the artisans he works with there in Ukraine appreciate the support. I think it’s ok, then, if we let the Anna Jarvises of the world collectively sulk in a corner somewhere.

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