We’re bombarded for weeks leading up to the second Sunday in May with reminders that we need to go out and spend money on specially branded giftware and greeting cards to honour our mothers. My Presbyterian family considered this a purely commercial and irreligious festivity and paid it no attention.
Or is that quite true?
There’s no doubt that we were aware of the day, and perhaps we took Mum a cup of tea in bed. Most of us do honour our mothers and their gift to us of life and its consequences. But does Mother’s Day have any special significance in the New Zealand context?
Te Ara staff have done some digging. Thanks to Marguerite Hill for the Papers Past research and to Caren Wilton and Janine Faulknor for the Te Ara links.
According to Wikipedia, Mother’s Day began in the US in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother, who had died in 1905. Jarvis had been campaigning for a holiday to be created to recognise mothers. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday a century ago, in 1914.
(Mothering Sunday, on the other hand, is very very old and held on the fourth Sunday of Lent.) Apparently Jarvis was unhappy about the commercialisation. She wanted things to be more altruistic and meaningful. Oh well.
It was reported in New Zealand that white flowers were emblematic of Mother’s Day, and children were encouraged to wear them as a token. The earliest reference to the celebration of the day in New Zealand is in the Otago Daily Times in 1908. In 1909 the American holiday was explained to New Zealanders. It seems that the idea of marking the day in New Zealand came about in 1910 and that the YMCA and Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) were big supporters.
The Wairarapa Daily News wrote about Mother’s Day at the YMCA in 1917:
The general idea of Mother’s Day is a world-wide emphasis of the love and reverence men, women and children owe to a good mother. The special object is to honour and uplift motherhood and to give comfort and happiness to “the best mother that ever lived—your mother”. How the members of the Y.M.C.A. are asked to observe Mother’s Day— By a loving remembrance of mother (or her memory), through some distinct act of kindness, some tribute - or a letter. By living the day as your mother would have you live it. By having her as your guest of honour. By going back home and giving her pleasure. By writing (if away from home) a loving letter of praise and gratitude. By wearing a white flower in the buttonhole. By attending the Mother’s Day tea. at 5 o’clock on Sunday, and bringing “mother” as guest.
Here are some mother-themed links from Te Ara as our tribute to Mother’s Day:
Plunket mums painting the Strathmore rooms, just down the road from Caren
Caren’s favourite mum pic ever, kākāpō mum Alice with her chick – awwwwwwwwww.
Good on you, Mums of New Zealand. You’re a diverse and hard-working lot! Enjoy that cup of tea in bed.