A More Meaningful Way to Celebrate Mother’s Day


Six years ago on Mother’s Day, I arrived at Ros’ home and knocked on the door only to find no answer. I walked in expecting to take her on our annual brunch date and found her lying on the floor of her bedroom. She had suffered a massive stroke that would change our lives forever. I share my experiences as a busy daughter learning how to show my love to mom in less commercial ways.

In my research on the topic, I learned that 2019 will be a historic year of spending with a total of 84% of US expected to spend $25 billion, up from $23.1 billion in 2018. It is a little-known fact that Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, would disapprove of our chocolate-covered festivities.

The modern Mother’s Day holiday began with a memorial to Jarvis’ mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, in 1905. Anna Jarvis is responsible for the campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday after the passing of her mother, an activist for peace who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of Civil War battlefields. Her mother was active in the Episcopal Church and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address health and sanitary issues. These clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work for families in which mothers suffered from tuberculosis and inspected bottled milk and food.

Young Anna Jarvis’ inspiration came from a prayer her mother shared after a Sunday school lesson. “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

Jarvis set out to honor her own mother by continuing her work. She stated that a mother was “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation declaring the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to honor mothers.

Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day, she soon became resentful of the commercialization and was angry that companies began profiting from the holiday. Jarvis became so embittered by what she saw as exploitation that she tried to rescind the Mother’s Day holiday.

Jarvis organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to try to stop the commercialization of her beloved Mother’s Day. She once threw her lunch on the floor when she found out that a department store in Philadelphia was offering a Mother’s Day special. The activist went as far as to protest at a candy makers’ convention in the City of Brotherly Love in 1923. Two years later, she protested at a meeting of the American War Mothers because they raised money by selling carnations, and Jarvis was reportedly arrested for disturbing the peace.

Jarvis’ story came up during my search for meaningful Mother’s Day traditions. Momma Ros currently resides in a nursing care facility, so material things aren’t valuable to her. We get creative when it comes to her gifts. And while I plan to brunch with my mom on Sunday, I am always searching for more meaningful ways to honor her in a genuine and consistent way. Since she was always my biggest cheerleader when I planned or hosted events and she read every story that I published. She can’t do either easily, so I include handwritten poetry, pictures from events and news stories in scrapbook every year that she proudly travels with on the back of her wheelchair.

Our family brunch now begins with paying respects to all those who do not have the opportunity to celebrate with their mothers. I am reminded that special moments, with mom, can disappear in the blink of an eye. No matter how commercial the holiday has become, it still embodies sentiments of gratitude for what motherhood meant to Jarvis and so many. After all, “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world” should have the best expression of our love.

Antionette Kerr is a media correspondent, author and publisher.

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