As I’m sure you’re aware, this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day (it falls on a Sunday this year) -- a day that people all over the country celebrate by giving mothers off from cooking and cleaning and so on.
“Don’t worry about it,” is the sentiment. “You’ll just do double tomorrow.”
Yeah, I know: You personally don’t celebrate it. A lot of people don’t. They say, “We don’t celebrate Mother’s Day. Every day is Mother’s Day!” But not in front of their mother.
It’s clearly a commercial holiday. Basically, Mother’s Day was invented when someone decided that if they just made up a random holiday to sell flowers and cards, people would say, “Nope! We don’t celebrate that. We just had a holiday. I only celebrate holidays that were passed down by people smarter than me.” But if the holiday was about buying these things for your mother, everyone would be afraid to say, “Nope.” At worst, they’d say, “We don’t hold of Mother’s Day, but we’re getting mommy something anyway, in case she does.” In order for a family to not hold of Mother’s Day, the mother herself has to say that she doesn’t hold of it. The minhag for this yom tov goes by the mother.
And even if she says that, since when has your mother or wife saying, “It’s okay, you don’t have to get me anything,” actually meant that it’s okay, you don’t have to get her anything?
Whoever created Mother’s Day is a genius.
Not only that, but it’s even better than, say, Veteran’s Day, because everyone either is a mother or knows someone who’s a mother. Most people are even related to a mother. Some mothers even have their own mothers. This is a gold mine!
And anyway, people might quietly not celebrate it, but if someone asks a family straight up, “What are you doing this year for Mother’s Day?” no one says, “We don’t celebrate it.” Everyone looks nervously at Mommy to see what she’s going to reply, and she will either say, “We don’t really celebrate Mother’s Day,” or, “I don’t know. Why is everyone looking at me? I’m not supposed to be making the plans!” And that’s how they know.
So I suppose that if no one mentions it one year, everyone would probably get away with it. That said, I apologize for bringing it up. But I have an article to churn out, and it’s right before Pesach for me, so you’re not my problem.
But anyway, there might as well be a day to celebrate mothers. You think it would be your birthday, but no, the way birthdays work, the mother does all the work and you get all the credit. It’s like haircuts. No one calls a barber and says, “I just saw Shmuly. Nice job!” It’s a good day as any to honor everyone at once -- your mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, Mother Russia, Mother Goose, Old Mother Hubbard…
And the day is not a huge deal. There isn’t any major cleaning or kashering to be done, except maybe after the kids make breakfast. There are just a few simple, basic Mother’s Day minhagim that everyone goes by.
Basically, the standard minhag these days is to buy flowers and a card. Most people also serve her breakfast in bed, which is as far as possible that they can keep her from the smoke of whatever they made her (usually cereal).
The cards can be homemade, and the mother is required to hang them on her fridge when she gets out of bed to wash the dishes that everyone used to make her breakfast. Most also have the custom to take the mother out for dinner, which isn’t so much about actually going to a heavily-crowded restaurant, but more about not making her cook that meal either, but also not wanting to make her supper in bed because they’re tired from making breakfast. Also, breakfast in bed is a luxury. Supper in bed means something’s wrong with you. Unless the last thing you’re doing at night is eating supper, you have to go upstairs empty-handed and get under the covers just so people can bring you your supper. It’s weird. Then you have to get back out to wash those dishes.
The idea, though, is that they don’t have to cook, though Jewish families often just have leftovers on Sundays, so that kind of takes care of itself. Unless they went away for Shabbos. We don’t know if your mother actually WANTS cards and flowers, but it’s not really the mother’s place to say what she wants, seeing as she already said, “We don’t really celebrate Mother’s Day,” so everyone was on their own in figuring out what she wants.
“But how did this get started?” you ask.
Ever since mothers were invented, the secular world has been wondering, “What is the best way to recognize them?” And then someone said, “How about once a year?” And everyone thought it was a good idea.
That was what I thought. So I looked it up. And I now present to you some facts about the invention of Mother’s Day, depending on how loosely you define the word “fact”. It’s stuff I found that I wasn’t going to double-check, because I’m preparing for Pesach this week, which is frankly a holiday steeped in way more fact than this one:
FACT: The person who officially proclaimed Mother’s Day was President Woodrow Wilson, also known as the father of Mother’s Day.
FACT: In his 1914 proclamation, he declared it “a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” So that’s the difference between this and what you do every day – whether you honor your mother in PUBLIC. Hence the restaurant.
FACT: The mother of Mother’s Day was a woman named Anna Jarvis, who, in 1908, threw two celebrations to honor her mother, Ann Jarvis.
FACT: Ann Jarvis died in 1905.
FACT: Anna didn’t let that stop her. Guests were very confused.
FACT: To be honest, it sounds like it was more of a yahrtzeit seudah.
FACT: Anna had a great time at this yahrtzeit seudah, or as great a time as could be expected, and called it “Mother’s Day”, singular, because she only had one mother. So she decided, why not do it every year? Why not push to have the whole country do it every year? Around the anniversary of her mother’s death, specifically.
FACT: Ann had been a teacher, and when Anna was 12, she heard her mother tell her students, “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. Hint hint.”
FACT: Anna quit her job in advertising and started writing to politicians, urging them to declare a national holiday. At first, congress rejected her proposal, joking that the next thing they knew, they would also have to proclaim a Mother-in-Law’s Day.
FACT: Mother-in-Law’s Day was established in 1934, and it’s the 4th Sunday in October. Most people get away without doing anything, because it’s just a matter of avoiding the “What are you two doing for Mother-in-Law’s Day?” conversation.
FACT: Ann’s original idea had been for mothers to get together and celebrate with each other. This was also the original idea for Groundhog’s Day. And President’s Day.
FACT: Once the holiday officially started spreading, several other people came out of the woodwork to claim that they had been the first to start celebrating mothers.
FACT: Apparently, no one had thought of celebrating mothers until the late 1800s.
FACT: One such claimant was university football coach Frank Hering, who required his students to write a note home to their mothers once a month.
FACT: As a result, they almost called it “Hering Day”, but they didn’t, for obvious reasons. Mostly they didn’t want people buying their mothers herring.
FACT: On top of that headache, and after spending 6 years trying to establish Mother’s Day, Anna spent the rest of her life urging people to stop celebrating it. A least the way people do now.
FACT: She was very against how commercial it had become almost immediately – especially when she walked into a restaurant and saw, on the menu, something called “Mother’s Day salad.”
FACT: That sounds like mulched flowers.
FACT: She didn’t even like how the flower companies were making money off the holiday. When she’d originally gotten them involved, her intention was that you write your mother a personal note and give her one flower. And now it’s turned into buying a card, and then buying a whole bunch of flowers to make up for not having written the card yourself.
FACT: She spent the rest of her life suing anything and everything Mother’s-Day-related, even attacking Eleanor Roosevelt for using the day to collect charity for needy mothers. She never got married or had children, as she was too busy raising a stink about Mother’s Day.
FACT: Or did she? She was the mother of Mother’s Day. Apparently, Mother’s Day is about having a kid that you envision turning out one way, and you name it after your mother, but then after a while, you realize that it’s gotten too big to be contained, it doesn’t do anything itself, and it’s way too obsessed with money and candy. Though I suppose any mother of an actual human child could have told her that part of being a mother is realizing which things are important and letting things go.
FACT: Nachas helps a lot.
FACT: In short, this is a holiday tinged with guilt if we celebrate it and guilt if we don’t. That’s what makes it Mother’s Day.