There have been celebrations dedicated to mothers tracing back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. These ancient traditions led to what is now known as Mother’s Day. While commonly celebrated in many western cultures on the second Sunday of May, many unique customs still exist around the world.
In Ethiopia, mothers must work hard to prepare a feast whereas in Norway, moms get breakfast in bed. In Egypt, Mother’s Day was introduced by journalist Mustafa Amin who wrote about it in his book, Smiling America. While originally ridiculed, it was accepted as a holiday by President Nasser in 1956.
Anna Jarvis founded the Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S. in Philadelphia in 1908, three years after her mother’s death. Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, known today as the International Mother’s Day Shrine, marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day. The International Mother’s Day Shrine has been a designated National Historic Landmark since October 5, 1992.
Jarvis dedicated the white carnation as the symbol of Mother’s Day by saying, “Its whiteness is to symbolize the truth, purity and broad-charity of mother love; its fragrance, her memory, and her prayers. The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying. When I selected this flower, I was remembering my mother’s bed of white pinks.”
Today the original symbols have shifted slightly. The white carnation now honors deceased mothers and the red carnation represents living mothers. My mother is a florist, so I am very aware of just how many flowers are sent on this day in the U.S. It is the biggest day of the year for florists, exceeding even Valentine’s Day.