How often do you find people disowning things or in this case a memorable day that they worked so hard for? Not often or not at all. However, that’s not the case for Anna Jarvis who founded Mother’s Day but later came to disown the day after all her efforts to commemorate it.
First let’s take a small detour, understand the history and origins of Mother’s Day. This day is dedicated to honoring and celebrating mothers and motherhood that happens on the second Sunday of May around the world in most countries.
The day typically involves people showing their appreciation, gratitude and love for their mothers or mother figures in varying ways, from spending time with them to giving them gifts and flowers to simple but genuine things like hugs and notes.
Present day Mother’s Day dates back to the 20th century from the works of Anna Maria Jarvis and her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis. Their names being quite identical we’ll go with Ann Reeves for the mum and the daughter will be Anna Maria Jarvis.
Anne Reeves had been a peace activist who tended to wounded soldiers during the American Civil War regardless of whichever side they fought for. She created Mother’s Day Work Clubs that addressed public health issues.
Anne Reeves and Julia Ward Howe, both working independently, urged for the creation of a “Mother’s Day For Peace” where mothers would ask that their husbands and sons were no longer killed in wars. If social media was present back then they’d clearly compliment each others efforts with a simple tweet.
Ann Reeves is largely regarded as the one who laid foundational grounds for Mother’s day which set the stage for her daughter, Anna Maria Jarvis who took her mom’s mission to completion and is widely regarded as the founder of mother’s day.
Ironically, Anna was a present day “city girl” who remained unmarried and childless her whole life and put her efforts towards commemorating the day of personal celebration between mothers and families hence her insistence on the spelling being “Mother’s” to make it a singular possessive so each family honors its own mother.
After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis thought of commemorating the day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children, in particular her mom.
Three years after her mom’s death on May 10, 1908, Anna held a memorial to honor her mother and all mothers at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in West Virginia, where her mom taught previously.
Today it is the International Mother’s Day Shrine marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day which was a complete success despite Anna herself not attending it.
However, in her place she did send a telegram and approximately 500 carnations to the service which was her moms favorite flower to symbolize the purity of a mother’s love.
Owing to the widespread success of the memorial, the custom developed over time and the wearing of a red or pink carnation symbolized a living mother and a white carnation represented a deceased mother.
That was followed by Anna’s aggressive letter writing and promotional campaigns to individuals in positions of power across the country advocating the need for a national Mother’s day. It’s equivalent present day would be emails from Carol from bolt who has a similar aggressive approach.
The response to her letters was initially cold, what most Kenyans would term as “blue” or “grey” ticks but she got a breakthrough along the way when she was backed by great merchant and philanthropist, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia. The Kenyan proxy would be someone with deep pockets and probably a public figure.
With the gradual progress and popularity of Mother’s Day back then, you’d expect that when the proposal was put forward in the US Congress it would pass with little to no objections? Right?
When the proposal was put forward In 1908, the US Congress rejected the proposal to make Mother’s Day an official national holiday, joking that they would also have to proclaim a “Mother-in-law’s Day” that was quite a turnaround.
That however didn’t derail Anna’s efforts because within five years, nearly every state was observing Mother’s day and in 1914 with West Virginia being the first. The US President Woodrow Wilson went on to make it a national holiday to be observed every second Sunday of May every year.
The adoption of Mother’s Day in the Capitalism capital, the US naturally meant it would create viable new business opportunities for different companies and individuals.
The symbols which were once valued for their sentimentality and purity such as the white and red carnations were now commercialized and the floral companies looked to make profits with higher prices rather than sell the commodity for its symbolism.
Card printing companies wasted no time as by the 1920’s Mother’s Day was a “Hallmark holiday” mainly because the holiday was characterized by printed cards from Hallmark Cards and other card printing companies.
Anna was more of the idea that spending time and a heartfelt handwritten letter was of higher sentimental value instead of buying cards with words already written for you which I kind of second.
Anna protested this exploitation and misinterpretation of Mother’s day, she argued the day was meant to emphasize sentimentality not profit. Anna went to the extent of organizing boycotts and threatening lawsuits to the companies involved in the so-called commercialization of Mother’s Day.
Shifting gears to the present, one would argue that Mother’s Day among other holidays have all been heavily commercialized.
Most of our holidays currently are characterized by crazy offers from product companies, travel packages from Bonfire Adventures and the likes, extravagant dinners with the participants posting their receipts for us on twitter to reel over samosas that cost an upwards of Kes1300.
One that hits near Mother’s Day is the recent craze in baby showers since it’s a day to celebrate the forthcoming child. Baby showers in Kenya don’t date as far and if you need confirmation just ask your mum or dad if they had a baby shower for you.
Highest probability is they will tell you no one organized a party for you in attendance from your mum’s tummy and if they do tell you yes, you’re probably an adolescent.
Our local celebrities tend to go to extravagant lengths, recently some Kenyan celebrities held lavish and extravagant gender reveals and baby showers for their unborn babies going to the extent of using helicopters and putting up billboards for some little guys that have no idea of what’s even going on.
As it stands, we’ve commercialized a lot of things, holidays etc. One may argue it’s because of the changing times and way of life.
For you to show gratitude right now you’d need to procure something in the form of a gift or service and for that to be possible you need to have money in exchange for it or else you don’t “love” your mom.
Today people get flowers and plants for Mother’s Day more than any other holiday except Christmas, not even poor Valentine’s with all those roses. Mother’s Day spending recorded a total $26.7billion in 2020 in the US alone. Welcome to the effects of capitalism.
With the emergence of tough economic times and technology, cash can be regarded as a gift too. Now we can easily transact via our phones and if you were planning on sending your mom some cash as her gift.
All you need to do is send it via M-PESA or mobile banking rather than wake up, board a bus to accompany your envelope of cash for security reasons till it gets on your mum’s hands then come back all the way.
If Anna Maria Jarvis was still alive to date, I bet she’d be so enraged with the state of things. She didn’t stand the commercialization then and went on to use her own personal resources to fight legal battles and launch campaigns to stop its commercialization.
Her efforts used up most of her resources with legal fees and led to her own financial hardships ironically while others benefited from a day she founded.Soon Anna fell ill and was admitted to a Sanitarium in Pennsylvania.
The florists she lobbies against paid for her treatment there and by the time she was breathing her last in 1948 Anna Reeves Jarvis had actively lobbied the government to remove it from the American calendar and had disowned the holiday altogether.