Mother’s Day was started by a woman named Anna Jarvis, one of 13 children in her family. (For grammarians, Anna was insistent on the singular possessive form of the holiday, indicating that the celebration should be specific to each family – and not a celebration of all mothers in general.) Anna’s mother had founded an effort during the Civil War to get mothers on both sides of the conflict to foster peace, a movement she called the Mothers Friendship Day. After Anna’s mother died, to get Mother’s Day celebrated, Anna incorporated a business, as well as trademarked certain words and phrases to keep others from using it. Anna became increasingly agitated over the crass commercialization of the holiday. When the candy, card, and flower industry appropriated and then changed her traditional emblems, she fought against it. Unlike everyone else, she didn’t profit from the holiday and was relatively poor when she died. (No one told her that her stay at the place she died at was paid for by a group of florists.)
Anna wanted Mother’s Day to “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She fought to get people to stop buying flowers, cards, and candy. She referred to these industries as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.” Anna thought that you should go see your mother and spend time with or write her a sentimental letter. As she said: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.” And “Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.” Anna worked as hard to abolish the holiday as she had to get it started and celebrated, so angry and reviled by the commercialization of the holiday.
Fathers Day is widely credited to a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, an Arkansas living in Spokane, Washington. (Her own mother died when she 16, giving birth to her 6th child.) She initially got the idea after hearing about Mothers Day. Sonora originally wanted the holiday to be celebrated on her dad’s birthday, but local ministers didn’t have time to prepare their sermons and thus agreed on the 3rd Sunday of June. When Sonora moved to Chicago to attend art school, the holiday faded. She returned to Spokane and then revived the holiday. From several sources, I’ve learned that the holiday was very much resisted by most people, as it was considered to be a crass ‘cash-in’ on the Mothers Day holiday. There are a lot of satirical words and pictures on the internet about it, if you are interested. Even Congress feared it would become nothing more than a commercialized observance. (For the grammarians among us, Sonora wanted the day to be titled “Fathers’ Day,” but due to previous bills, the apostrophe was placed before the ‘s’ in the name.)
If you are interested, please google and read some of the links. Like most history, what lies beneath, behind, and sometimes out in the open is much more interesting than what we commonly know.
Since this blog is supposed to be about my opinion, you probably can guess my general attitude about such holidays. I’m in agreement with those who scoffed at the ‘necessity’ of a Mother’s Day. Again, though, I’m not preaching to those who feel the emotions that the day was supposed to have elicited. As the creator of the day learned, nothing is sacred and commerce trumps what lies in the heart. While not everyone who honors their mothers succumbs to the superficial meaninglessness, many do, and we all suffer from the relentless commercial obligation of it all. It creates a societal pull of guilt and artificial inclination to do and say things that aren’t spontaneous, true, and authentic. I’ve never understood the need to adhere to a nationally-agreed upon day of honor for any person or group in my life. Those who love me and those whom I love and value know that this is the case. If it were my decision, all such holidays would fall to the wayside, with the emphasis being placed on interpersonal appreciation during our daily lives. Everyone would be encouraged to express their respect and acknowledgement of those in their lives – without the expectation that such expression could be warehoused and shared on a pre-arranged day.Collective observance would be a relic of the past.
If I were to have had children, instead of encouraging them to participate in Mother’s Day, I would have instead talked to them about the importance of not waiting to surprise someone with words of love, shared time together, or a heartfelt gift, one given at the time the urge to express overcame them. It is too easy to be molded by incessant commercialization or to put off expressing what you should express often and at your own prompting. I would also encourage my children to ignore the precepts of Father’s Day and instead surprise me some other time. We would make a game of rebellion. (On the hand, I had mercy on my imaginary children by not having them at all. Not everyone should have them and genetics and/or environment have proven this to be all too true with my family tree and genetic lottery.)
In general, I have the same attitude about almost all modern holidays. The things I find meaningful in these holidays are not the same as what most people find worthwhile. There are few days that pass me wherein I am not thankful, not only because time and circumstance have chosen to allow me to continue walking the earth, but also because I have a good life with some great people in it. I am always more welcoming of shared time and eating, even if the turkey is disguised as pizza and the wine is cheap stuff from the bargain bin at the store. We too often focus on the pomp and pageantry, when the spirit of the occasion lies within each person smiling, laughing and celebrating. We sometimes salute the flag without taking the necessary time to learn of our shared culture and history, for it is a more honorable thing to learn about the circumstances of our country and its reasons for sending people to fight for it than it is to salute in general to idea of patriotism. We sometimes take too much time to go to church and sing our hymns, instead of stopping to help someone who needs it.
Holidays need their spontaneity and meaning in every regard.