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The Origin of Mother's Day

Updated: May 11, 2021

This week we celebrate our mothers. Today is affectionately known as Mother's Day. Have you ever wondered why we honor and celebrate Mother’s Day? I know what most men may be thinking, “Its just so we have to go out and buy more cards and gifts!” Nope. The “Mother’s Day” concept has a long history of religious connections, predominantly among Christians. However, it actually all began in ancient Greece. The idea of paying tribute to motherhood was given expression with a regular festival to worship mother’s and fertility. Formal ceremonies to Cybele, or Rhea, the “Great Mother of the Gods,” were performed on the Ides of March throughout Asia Minor.

Like most pagan holidays, Christians were unsure as to what to do and how to interact with the secular society. Instead of conforming, Christianity considered reforming. The Christian concept of Mother's Day seems to date back to the establishment of England’s “Mothering Sunday.” This was a custom of the people which provided that one attend the mother church in which he/she was baptized on Mid-Lent Sunday. Gifts were to be offered at the altar to the church and to mothers of each worshipper. The concept was void of any “mother worship,” but perpetuated its religious association. It was extremely popular and well established in the late 1700s.

Since most of the American colonies were full of Christians that were partial to the teachings and practices of the church of England it was not long until the United States began considering an observance of a similar practice. The first general observance of the occasion was in the churches of Philadelphia after Miss Anne Jarvis campaigned for a holiday for mothers in 1876. The identity of this holiday would be less about the mother church, and more about one's own mother.We might consider this somewhat of a homecoming. You would travel to your home church, where your mother was worshipping, and celebrate her on that day with other religious women.

The nation was still mourning the dead soldiers of the Civil War in the 1870s. While teaching a Memorial Day lesson, Mrs. Anna Reeves Jarvis thought of mothers who had lost their sons.She prayed that one day there could be a "Memorial Day" for all mothers. The prayer made a deep impression on one of Mrs. Jarvis's eleven children. Young Anna had seen her mother's efforts to hold the war split community and church together. As she grew into adulthood, the younger woman kept Mrs. Jarvis's dream in her heart. The goal was to make it an officially recognized national observance.

On the day of her mother's death, Anna was determined to establish Mother's Day in her honor. Therefore, on May 12, 1907 a local observance was held in honor of her mother and celebrated all other mothers in that community. This observance later spread throughout Pennsylvania. By 1910, Mother's Day was celebrated in forty-five states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico. Miss Jarvis was elated to find that the holiday was being celebrated in other places around the world. She told a friend, "Where it will end must be left for the future to tell. That it will circle the globe now seems certain."

On May 8, 1914, President Wilson designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day "for displaying the American flag and for the public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of the country." It was changed to a designated Sunday so that congregations could embrace it and families could be together to celebrate it. To this day many churches will have special services or activities to encourage mothers and remember those who have passed away.

From a biblical perspective, when I think about godly mothers, I remember the woman mentioned in Proverbs 31. That passage adequately describes the characteristics of a virtuous woman. The text recognizes her faith, marriage, parenting, health, service, stewardship, priorities, reputation, homemaking, and beauty.We are hard pressed to find another passage of Scripture that better describes the qualities of a true woman of God. Earlier in Proverbs 18:22 it says, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing." Clearly a wife is wonderful, but a godly wife is essential.

My mother passed away in 2010. As time passes I miss her even more and look foward to our reunion in Heaven. However, I am blessed with an amazing wife, mother-in-law, and several Christian mothers who have adopted me into their spiritual family. We honor all of you today! Happy Mother's Day. Have a great week!!!

You are loved.

Dr. Ray Reynolds

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