Saturday, May 11, 2013
Mother's Day and the Evisceration of Meaning
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. You can learn all about this special day by going into any number of gift shops and see that it’s all about loving and grateful sentiments toward our moms. It’s a day to give our mothers (and wives, and daughters, and sisters, and so on) a break from their routines and show them that they are special.
Yes, that is exactly what Mother’s Day is about. Except it’s not. Not really.
Sure, we’ve made it that way. But at it’s inception, Mother’s Day had nothing to do with sentiment. It was not about expensive cards and flowers and days off and special church services that honored The Mother of the Year.
Mother’s Day began as a social activism movement. It was a social activism movement led by mothers.
A woman named Ann Jarvis, whose father was a Methodist minister, organized mothers in the mid-1800s in West Virginia to work toward improving sanitary conditions in their local communities where diseases like tuberculosis were common. When the American Civil War broke out, Ann encouraged her mothers groups to declare neutrality, and they committed themselves to bringing care to sick and wounded soldiers from both sides. After the war, her groups reached out to mothers from both the north and south, helping them to put aside old animosities and heal the deep wounds from the war.
In 1870 a woman named Julia Ward Howe, inspired by Jarvis’s work, wrote a proclamation calling on mothers throughout the US to demand an end to all war. Mothers had long tired of giving up their children to bloody battlefields, and Howe’s influence spread to groups in 20 different cities before dissipating due to lack of financial support.
By the early 20th century, Mother’s Day became a recognized holiday through the efforts of Jarvis’s daughter, Anna. Soon however, it lost its original purpose and became highly commercialized and sentimentalized. Anna spent the rest of her life attempting to fight that trend, and was even arrested in 1948 for staging a protest against the now-culturally-sanitized Mother’s Day.
Anna, of course, lost that fight, and we lost the real power of Mother’s Day, just like we’ve lost the real power of things like Christmas, Easter, and virtually all the seasons of the Church year. It’s tragic how the overall cultural acceptance of important celebrations and remembrances often result in commercialization, sanitization, and the evisceration of meaning. And we—followers of Jesus, who ought to know better—often join in.
Sure, I’ll call my mother tomorrow and wish her a happy Mother’s Day. But I’m not buying a card or flowers or anything like that. I think, instead, that I’ll get her some blank signboards, a few marking pens, and maybe even a bullhorn, and encourage her to go out and protest against something like war or poverty. No police officer would have the courage to go toe-to-toe with my mom. She could reduce any burly cop to tears in about three seconds.
Of course, I do run the risk of having her protest that it’s Mother’s Day, and all she got was my lousy phone call.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Jarvis; http://www.wvculture.org/history/jarvis.html; http://www.momsrising.org/blog/the-feminist-anti-war-roots-of-mothers-day/