Saturday 1 March 2008

Mother's Day

Most countries, and most civilisations since the ancient Egyptians, have put aside a day to honour mothers, but very few celebrate it on the same date. For example, Americans will be celebrating Mother's Day in May.

In the UK and Ireland, Mother's Day is more traditionally called Mothering Sunday and is a Christian holy day, which takes place on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This is believed to have begun in the 17th century when Christians would visit their "mother church" annually. It also meant that on that day most mothers would be reunited with their grown-up children who may have moved away from home.

Unlike many Christian holy days, there is little evidence that Mothering Sunday was plonked on top of an existing pagan festival. However, most pagan religions hold motherhood - and the Mother Goddess - in very high esteem. The ancient Egyptians held an annual festival to honour Isis, who was regarded as the mother of the pharaohs. Ancient Greeks honoured Rhea, the mother of the gods. The Roman root of Mother’s Day can be seen in the celebration of the Phrygian goddess Cybele, or Magna Mater (Great Mother), who is a version of Rhea.

In the USA, Mother's Day is always the second Sunday in May because it is when, after the American Civil War, Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother's Day Proclamation as a call for peace and disarmament. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared that day as a national holiday for American citizens to show the flag in honour of mothers whose sons had died in war.

This holiday became very popular and was commercialised by the greeting card company Hallmark. By the mid 20th century American Mother's Day became fused with British Mothering Sunday, which had declined as a religious festival, and turned it into the event we know today - a time to send a card and a bunch of flowers to your mum, rather than a day to go to church.

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