Mother’s Day is one of those slightly confusing days. In the UK it moves every year and is a different day entirely to many other countries across the world, yet the tradition of showering your mum with flowers and gifts and going for a nice lunch seems to ring true everywhere. It might seem like a purely commercial construct, but it's actually got quite a complex history and has changed face quite a few times.
In the UK, it has origins in Christianity and wasn't really anything to do with your mum at all - it was instead the day on which people would go back to their ‘mother church’ in the middle of Lent. In the UK today, it's all about celebrating the leading lady in your life, and the date is the only part of the tradition that has really endured. But when did this change happen?
Mother's Day as we know it today is actually much closer to an American tradition which started in 1872. Poet, author and social activist Julia Ward Howe, 'Mother’s Peace Day' was started by activists, suffragists, and pacifists to celebrate mothers as agents of change in a time of war.
Howe called for women work together and to gather once a year to promote peace:
“Arise then, Women of this day... Say firmly: Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. / Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. / From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with Our own. It says: ‘Disarm Disarm!’”
“In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.”
So we can see how Mother's Day is yet another example of how women have resisted societal norms and challenged ideas that limit their rights; something that is sadly just as true today as it was in the USA in 1870s.
It's a day not just for the women and people who raised us, but those who rose up so we could too. Let's celebrate those people.