Culture Fail: Mothers Day… Because I Bet Your Mom Hates It When You Buy Her Stuff

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Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day

Much like how a Starbucks caramel macchiato is a sugary, inflated, bastardization of real coffee, Mother’s Day hasn’t been “Mother’s Day”—at least according to founder Anna Jarvis—since the 1920s. Anna Jarvis’s beloved mom, Ann, died in 1905 and Jarvis became fixated—like an insatiable, blackcloaked honey badger—on creating a holiday to commemorate and celebrate individual mothers. Less than ten years later, Jarvis’s unceasing efforts got President Woodrow Wilson to authorize every second Sunday in May as “Mother’s Day.” The fact that Anna was successful so quickly in an age without Twitter, Kickstarter, or YouTube shows just how committed she was.

Jarvis’s vision of Mother’s Day was extremely specific. It was supposed to be about gifting your mother with a handwritten letter expressing your thanks and love. It was supposed to be about dropping by to shower your favorite person (your mom IS your favorite person, right?) in love and affection, and the best gift of all—your time.

But one teensy little detail messed everything up. The carnation. It was Jarvis’s mother’s favorite flower, and Jarvis promoted that it be worn in observance of the day. And boy, did the florists love that. Mother’s Day was quickly commercialized, with confectioners, greeting card businesses, and florists promoting the heck out of their Mother’s Day deals—and seeing corresponding bursts in sales. By 1925, Jarvis—cackling and disheveled, I imagine—was arrested for crashing a convention of American War Mothers, who sold carnations as a fundraiser. (She’d crashed a convention of candy makers two years before, but perhaps hadn’t been impassioned enough to be imprisoned.)

Regardless of how many boycotts Jarvis organized, or whatever insulting remarks she made about First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her underhanded Mother’s Day tie-in fundraisers, the commercialism of Mother’s Day chugged along merrily. And just as she had previously devoted herself to getting Mother’s Day observed as a national holiday, Jarvis devoted the rest of her life to destroying her creation.

Unsuccessfully, of course.

Today, Hallmark Cards claims Mother’s Day as the holiday with the third most card exchanges, just after Christmas and Valentine’s Day. So out of respect to Anna Jarvis—an inflexible visionary who really, REALLY, loved her mother—perhaps this year I’ll make the card myself. At the very least I’ll be guarding myself from being haunted by her sharp-tongued ghost. “A printed card means nothing except you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Jarvis is quoted as saying. “And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” Ouch.

By Mica Habarad