Honoring Mothers Through the Millenia

What is the busiest day of the year for telephone calls in the U.S.? Why, the second Sunday of May, of course. Better known as Mother's Day, this day of days for moms officially dates from the early 20th century and is more popular today than ever before. Despite its current popularity, its origins can be traced back thousands of years.

Historians trace the practice of celebrating mothers and motherhood back to the days of classical Greece and ancient Rome, where festivals were held honoring their mother goddesses—Rhea in the case of the Greeks and Cybele in the case of the Romans. In Tudor England, a Christian festival known as "Mothering Sunday" allowed servants to travel home to see their mothers on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Special occasions to honor mothers have been a feature of societies around the world for centuries. Modern Mother's Day as it is known today owes its origins to the pre- American Civil War efforts of Ann Reeves Jarvis organizing what she called "Mothers' Day Work Clubs" dedicated to teaching women how to properly care for their children. Later, she organized an annual “Mothers’ Friendship Day” in an attempt to promote reconciliation between troops of the Union Army and those of the Confederacy.

Efforts by a variety of determined women to formally establish Mother's Day as a national holiday marked the next four decades, culminating in the successful effort by Ann Reeves Jarvis's daughter, Ann, who organized what is recognized as the first official Mother's Day celebration in 1908. In 1910, West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize the second Sunday of May as what Americans celebrate today as Mother's Day.

The United States is far from being alone in celebrating and honoring its mothers. In France, a law dating from 1950 sets aside the fourth Sunday of every May as the "fête des mères." Cards and flowers and family dinners mark this day in France much the same way they mark Mother's Day in America two weeks earlier.

In Mexico, the date for Mother's Day remains the same from year to year—May 10. Historically, that has long been the busiest day of the year for Mexican restaurants as moms are honored with music and food. A popular song sung on this day by mariachi singers is called "Las Mañanitas." The song is also sung on birthdays, saints days and other special occasions.

In Spanish, the lyrics to "Las Mañanitas" go like this:

Estas son las mañanitas,
que cantaba el Rey David,
Hoy por ser día de tu
santo te las cantamos a ti.
Despierta, mi bien, despierta,
mira que ya amaneció,
Ya los pajarillos cantan,
la luna ya se metió.

Que linda está la mañana
en que vengo a saludarte,
Venimos todos con gusto
y placer a felicitarte.
Ya viene amaneciendo,
ya la luz del día nos dio,
Levántate de mañana,
mira que ya amaneció.

In English, the lyrics of "Las Mañanitas" go like this:

This is the morning song
that King David sang
Because today is your saint's day
we're singing it for you.
Wake up, my dear, wake up,
look it is already dawn
The birds are already singing
and the moon has set.

How lovely is the morning
in which I come to greet you
We all come with joy
and pleasure to congratulate you.
The morning is coming now,
the sun is giving us its light
Get up in the morning,
look it is already dawn.

In some Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, Mother's Day is celebrated on March 21. In Russia, meanwhile, Mother's Day was introduced on the last Sunday in November only after the fall of the Soviet Union. The single most important day for celebrating mothers in that country remains International Women's Day on March 8.

Whatever the tradition may be in the land where you live, it is always a good idea to honor your mother. The best solution might be what my mother used to tell my siblings and me: "If you want to make me happy, you should make every day a Mother's Day!" Few mothers would disagree with that.