Many people see Mother's
Day as a secular holiday, designed by the greeting card industry, promoted by
restaurants, beloved by florists. Some clergy agree, objecting to the commercialism
of the holiday. Does Mother's Day have religious meaning? If so what is it? Just
consider the witness of its founder, Anna Jarvis.
typically spend about $10 billion each year on Mother's Day for greeting cards,
flowers, restaurant meals, and other presents for mom. But the numbers don't tell
the whole story, by a long shot.
The religious and deeply Christian
origins of Mother's Day reflect the faith of the woman credited as its founder,
The Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia,
is called "the Mothers Day Church" because Anna Jarvis was active there;
her former home in Grafton is a national landmark. Anna Jarvis was inspired by
HER mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis who organized "Mothers' Work Day Clubs"
in the 1850's in the area. The clubs provided medicines for the poor, inspected
milk for children, provided nursing care for the sick, and shelters for children
When the Civil War broke out she called together
several of her clubs and asked them to make a pledge that friendship and good
will would not be a casualty of the war. In a remarkable display of courage and
compassion the women nursed soldiers from both sides and saved many lives.
A peacemaker who healed the wounds of war
As if that weren't
enough, Anna Reeves Jarvis became a genuine peace maker after the war. The wounds
and animosity between families who fought on either side were deep. So Anna organized
"Mothers' Friendship Days" to bring together families across the Mason
Anna Jarvis was born in 1850 and was an impressionable
child and teenager when her mother was at the peak of her courageous work. So
in 1907, two years after her mother's death, she organized the first "mothers'
day" in Grafton so that the work of peacemaking and the war against poverty
which her mother waged would not be forgotten.
If Mother's Day has
become too commercial, Anna Jarvis would have been the first to object, indeed,
she did protest the profiteering that had become part of Mother's Day even during
her lifetime. The remedy for the excesses of this popular holiday, is not to ignore
them, but to lift up the story of its founder, and her own mother, Anna Reeves
Jarvis, both of whom exemplified the very best that the Christian faith has to
The facts on holiday spending
Day rivals Easter in terms of total holiday spending. In the US cosumers spend
roughly $10 billion on each of these holidays. Valentine's Day edges out both
at about $13 billion. But, of course, nothing compares with Christmas, at $200
billion or more.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.