Favorite holiday has simple beginnings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2000

Retha Snell of Forget-Me-Not Florist has stayed busy this year trying to keep her Mother's Day displays well stocked. As it gets closer to Sunday, Snell and other retailers like her keep selling and selling. Retailers can thank the efforts of one remarkable woman for the popularity of the Mother's Day Holiday.

Photo by Angie Long

It's the second weekend in May, time to share a few facts on Mother's Day with our readers.

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For example, did you know that Mother's Day is the busiest day for restaurants across the US, with most people eating out at lunchtime?

It's also the third largest card-selling holiday with 147,000,000 cards being mailed in 1999, according to Hallmark Card reports.

And did you know that Mother's Day accounts for the fourth-largest volume of long-distance calls placed in one day, surpassed only by Christmas, New Year's, and Thanksgiving?

We're all familiar with the commercial blitz associated with most holidays today.

Mother's Day is no exception.

In 1991 alone, more than 75 million families bought Mother's Day's gifts totaling more than $987,000,000.

So who came up with the concept of this holiday?

Was it some wily entrepreneur, a clever greeting card company, an ambitious floral wholesaler?

Actually, it was none of the above.

Mother's Day was the brainchild of one American woman who spent years, and most of her fortune, working to establish a special day to honor and celebrate motherhood.

Who was this dedicated, determined woman?

To find out, we have to first go back to the days following the Civil War, to Taylor County, West Virginia. There the locals sought peace and reconciliation for the Union and Confederate families living in the area by scheduling a "Mothers' Friendship Day".

Two women, one dressed in gray, the other in blue, came forward together and asked the band to play both "Dixie" and "The Star Spangled Banner".

They urged the families present to all join in and sing along. Then the two women asked the families assembled to shake hands in friendship as the band played "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot".

By the time that song ended, many of those present were visibly weeping, still shaking hands and sharing embraces.

A young girl attending the event that day was deeply touched by what she saw and heard.

Her name was Anna Jarvis.

Years later, Anna Jarvis lost her mother.

She sorely missed this woman who'd brought her into the world and so greatly influenced her life.

Anna's mother, a long-time Sunday School teacher, had tried to live the message of love, forgiveness, and harmony in her own life and to pass it on to Anna.

In 1907, two years following her mother's death, Miss Jarvis began a vigorous letter-writing campaign to influential businessmen, members of the clergy and Congress, urging them to establish a special day to honor mothers.

Sadly, most of her appeals fell on deaf ears-until a man named Wanamaker became Anna's ally.

Wanamaker was a well-known philanthropist and the founder of the nation's largest and oldest department store, Wanamaker's, in Philadelphia.

Both a generous man and a savvy entrepreneur, Wanamaker gave his full support to the Mother's Day movement, giving it a momentum sorely needed.

On May 10, 1908, Mr. Wanamaker himself presided over a Mother's Day service held in his own store's auditorium.

Though designed to hold a capacity of 5000 people, more than 15,000 individuals tried to enter the auditorium that day.

Anna Jarvis was the guest speaker; she held the large audience spellbound for over an hour.

The occasion was considered a great success-both for the Mother's Day movement and for Wanamaker's.

On that same date, May 10, 1908, special Mother's Day services were also held in Anna's church in Philadelphia as well as her late mother's church in Grafton, West Va.

Anna sent 500 white carnations to Andrews Methodist in Grafton for the occasion.

She asked that everyone wear this flower because "it may be thought to typify some of the virtues of motherhood . . .faithfulness . . .love . . .charity . . .beauty."

Until her death, Anna maintained this as an annual tradition and sent more than 10,000 carnations as personal gifts to the church.

A telegram she sent on the first Mother's Day defined Anna Jarvis's purpose in establishing the day:

" . . .to remind us of our duty before it is too late . . .to obliterate family estrangement.

To make us better children . . .to have them know we appreciate them . . ."

Many churches across the country began to adopt the idea of an annual Mother's Day celebration.

It was first officially celebrated by the state of West Virginia in 1910.

Oklahoma followed suit in 1911. By 1912,The Mother's Day International Association had been organized, and most states celebrated Mother's Day in some way.

Some states celebrated in May, others in June.

Also in 1912 the governor of Washington asked his people to attend church and visit or write their mothers on this holiday, or to wear white carnations if their mothers were no longer alive.

In 1914, Congress passed the Mother's Day Bill, officially setting the second Sunday in May as the day for the observation of Mother's Day across the land.

Mother's Day isn't unique to America, either; it is celebrated around the world.

Denmark, Finland, Turkey, Australia, and Belgium all celebrate the day on the same date as the U.S.

England, China, Sweden, and Mexico honor their mothers on the fourth Sunday during Lent.

And in Slavic countries, their Mother's Day celebrations are tied into the Christmas season, honoring mothers at the beginning of Advent.

Anna Jarvis's dream of an annual day to honor mothers is very much a reality, more far-flung than she could have ever imagined.

However, even in Anna's day, the commercialization of the holiday was becoming very widespread, a disturbing fact to the holiday's founder.

For the remainder of her life, Anna Jarvis tried to reverse this exploitation, speaking at schools and churches, and writing to businessmen and politicians, urging everyone to remember the original purpose of Mother's Day: to show honor and gratitude to those who raised us.

So folks, when you present Mom with that gift tomorrow; when you pin on that carnation corsage or share that card, be sure to also give her a heart-felt hug and a sincere word of thanks for all she's done.

Call her and tell her so if you can't see her in person.

You'll be practicing the holiday as its extraordinary founder intended.

And we hope you did take note this fine woman was a G.R.I.T.S.-Girl Raised In The South.

Happy Mother's Day, ya'll!