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The fascinating origins of Mother's Day
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The fascinating origins of Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is coming up. I have mixed feelings about this day — I appreciate the sentiment as a mom and stepmom but know it can be difficult for some folks for many different reasons.

In my big, blended family we celebrate the mothers, grandmothers, the special aunties, the "just like moms" and the important women in our lives, recognizing even though some of these women might not be mothers themselves, they play a really important role in our lives and journeys.

This is not to take away from moms, but rather to share and adapt the celebration in a way that it best suits us.

So many of the women in my life have either helped me be a better mom or have, in some way, been a sort of mother figure to me. (I would like to give a shout out to my stepkids’ mom for sharing her kids with me. For letting me help raise two of the most brilliant and wonderful humans I know, and for loving my daughter like her own. I don’t know if this was what she imagined Mother’s Day to be like — sharing it with me — when she first had kids. But I am grateful for her.)

I guess my point is: there is no right or wrong way to spend this day.

Do you know the origin of Mother’s Day? I heard about it on a podcast awhile ago. It’s fascinating.

The first-ever Mother’s Day is traced back to May 10, 1908, when Philadelphia activist Anna Jarvis set out to honour her late mother, Anne, who had died three years earlier at the age of 72. Jarvis sent 500 carnations and a telegram to her family’s West Virginia Church in her hometown.

The telegram described the significance of this day. For Jarvis, the white carnation was an important way to commemorate the celebration of mothers. Not only because it was her mother’s favourite flower but also because of what it symbolized.

Nadine Orchard holds a bouquet of flowers she bought to bring to her mom for Mother’s Day. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

She said, “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.” 

Mother’s Day became official when former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation on May 9, 1914, declaring the second Sunday in May “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

Jarvis got the idea for Mother’s Day from her own mother, who recited a poem during 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.”

These words and this mission helped Jarvis deal with her grief and honour her late mom. However, the story is complex and has a sad ending. Jarvis’ campaign to honour mothers wasn’t intended to become as commercialized as it did. She began to resent the floral, greeting card and candy companies for upping their prices and their advertising for this day, and making millions of dollars for her idea.

She even wrote a petition in 1943 to have the day rescinded, a move that obviously failed. Jarvis spent her later years in a sanatorium, paid for by a group call The Floral Exchange — either to keep her in, or to thank her for creating the cash cow of day.

Jarvis died, childless, at the age of 82. She is buried next to her mother. While the story might not have the most uplifting ending (sorry about that) it’s still quite interesting. If you have a moment to look into it further, do a Google deep dive on Jarvis and the origins of Mother’s Day. Fascinating!

Have a lovely week. The sun is shining, and spring finally seems to be here!

Shelley Cook

Shelley Cook, Columnist

Shelley Cook

Good news this week

On Tuesday, Mayor Brian Bowman visited the Free Press building to mark World Press Freedom Day and to recognize the newspaper with the city’s Community Service Award. What an honour to witness such a milestone, and in some way to be part of it. Malak Abas wrote about it here.  

Mayor Brian Bowman (second from right) visits the Free Press building on Tuesday to mark World Press Freedom Day with a community service award for the 150-year-old newspaper alongside Free Press co-owner Bob Silver (second from left), publisher Bob Cox (far left) and editor Paul Samyn. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)





A.V. Kitching wrote a wonderful story about Winnipeg actor Djouliet Amara, who is flourishing in her acting career. This piece was so nice to read, because Amara is living her dream and we love to see it! 



Taylor Allen wrote about Priyanka Dhillon, Manitoba’s first female boxer to compete in the International Boxing Association Women’s World Boxing Championships in Istanbul, Turkey (May 8-20). I love reading stories about Manitobans who are making history for their achievements! Good luck Priyanka, I’m cheering for you! 

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