The Origins and Practices of Holidays: Mother’s Day

May, 12, 2019 – Mother's Day

On Sunday, May, 12, 2019, the United States will celebrate Mother's Day. This annual holiday is always celebrated on the second Sunday of May. It is held in honor of mothers and maternal figures and the positive influence they have on a personal and societal level.

In 1868, Ann Jarvis organized a committee to establish a "Mother's Friendship Day." The purpose of this was "to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War." She wanted to expand it into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the annual celebration was established. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, successfully continued her efforts. The first official Mother's Day was celebrated at St. Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, on May 10, 1908.

On May 10, 1913, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution asking all federal government officials to wear a white carnation the following day, in observance of Mother's Day. On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. The next day, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation. He declared the first national Mother's Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. Later, in 1934, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating the holiday.

In May 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives voted twice on a resolution commemorating Mother's Day. The church, where the first celebration was held, is now the International Mother's Day Shrine and is a National Historic Landmark.

Traditions on Mother's Day include going to church, the distribution of carnations, and family meals. Carnations have become a Mother's Day symbol since Anna Jarvis delivered 500 of them at the first celebration in 1908. She chose the carnation because it was her mother's favorite flower. 

Mother's Day is now one of the most commercially successful American occasions. This is reflected in the restaurant, jewelry, flower, spa treatment, and greeting cards industries. However, founder Anna Jarvis was a very strong opponent of the commercialization of the holiday.

Regardless of whether you choose to celebrate the day with commercial products, you can celebrate the holiday with the items below: 

Mother's Day

My Very Own Mother's Day

Mother's Day Surprise

Mother's Day

If there's a particular celebration you or someone you know participates in that we missed, let us know by leaving a comment on this post. Or, if you think we got something wrong, please also comment and let us know. We try to be as accurate as possible, but if there's a mistake, we want to correct it.

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Boston Public Library