Remembering mothers

Ninety years old this year, Mother's Day is entrenched as an official observation in the United States, where the second Sunday in May is set aside as Mother's Day.

Before Americans began celebrating Mother's Day, the British were observing Mothering Day. In some countries, mothers are honored twice a year.

Wherever we are and whatever date is set aside, it is good for us to honor mothers. But how do we bestow that honor?

Some researchers conclude that the founder of Mother's Day in the United States, Anna Jarvis, wouldn't be happy with how it is celebrated. She organized the Mother's Day International Association in Philadelphia in May 1907, on the second anniversary of the death of her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis. Her home state of West Virginia observed a Mother's Day in 1910. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution of Congress making the second Sunday in May an official day to express "love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

Miss Jarvis had a simple plan in mind. She wanted the day to be personal. She wanted people to go to church, wearing red carnations if their mothers were living, white if deceased. She wanted children to give their mothers a flower or hand-picked bouquet from their gardens or a nosegay of wildflowers. If children had grown up and moved away from home, she asked that they write letters or poems to their mothers as gestures of love and remembrance.

She had a good idea.

Then commercialization stepped in. An article published May 12, 1984, in the Deseret News, quoting from the Los Angeles Times, reported that in the 1920s Miss Jarvis accused florists of capitalizing on Mother's Day by raising prices of carnations. It wasn't long before the industry promoted bouquets and other arrangements as expressions of love and honor. Greeting cards were already popular by the time Mother's Day became official, but companies stepped up efforts to mass produce rhymes and designs that soon began replacing many of the heart-felt lines of poetry and sincere letters. Then came the boxes of candy that Miss Jarvis saw as substitutes for genuine expressions of love. At the convention of the Associated Retail Confectioners of the United States in Philadelphia in May 1923, she told candy makers that they were "using a beautiful idea as a means of profiteering." She stressed that Mother's Day "was not intended to be a source of commercial profit."

She fought a losing battle. Just as Christmas and Easter have been commercialized, so has Mother's Day gone the way of purchased goods becoming part of the tradition.

Certainly, there's nothing wrong with sons and daughters presenting their mothers lovely bouquets from florists, candy from stores and cards from shops. The error comes when these tokens are substituted for real expressions of love and honor. No present of flowers, candy, cards or any other item can mean more than the gift of self, the gift of love. These are the gifts Anna Jarvis had in mind.

Most of us would have to rise early in the morning and stay up late into the night in order to pay proper tribute to our mothers. In short, one day isn't long enough. And we cannot say or do enough to repay the debt we owe them. But we ought to try.

It's good for us to remember our mothers, to honor them every day by living lives that demonstrate the respect and love we have for them, whether they're still with us in this mortal realm or have progressed to the other side of the veil. Even with all its commercialism, it's good to have one day a year set aside to honor mothers.

It took an act of Congress to institute Mother's Day. It takes an act of love to give it meaning.