Our Love Is Growing

They don’t make Mother’s Day like they used to. Signed into being with Woodrow Wilson’s 1917 Presidential Proclamation, the U.S. Mother’s Day holiday has been tainted with rampant commercialism almost from its inception.

Anna Jarvis, a stalwart Philadelphian, had made the holiday her mission since her mother’s death in 1905. Her late mother, Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis, herself a woman of spirit, had advocated for the creation of a Memorial Mother’s Day to honor the significant role of mothers in their families, churches and communities. In her native West Virginia, she had created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address local issues of poor sanitation and epidemic diseases. During the Civil War, Jarvis’ mére urged the Mother’s Day Work Clubs to tend to the wounded of both the Union and Confederate soldiers. She was the real deal.

The younger Anna Jarvis, having achieved her goal of a Mother’s Day national holiday, was soon appalled by the commercial debasement of her noble cause. This was not the Mother’s Day for which she and her mother had militated. “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit,” she declared. She disdained the purchase of flowers and greeting cards as suitable maternal homage. Greeting cards, she said, were “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.”

In 1923 the doughty Ms. Jarvis launched a lawsuit against New York Governor Al Smith over a Mother’s Day celebration. When the suit was dismissed, she publicly protested, was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. This determined and feisty woman, as well as her mother, should be remembered today, beacons of integrity and fortitude in the sea of greeting cards, chocolates, flowers and restaurant dinners.

Mother’s Day is now observed across the nation by the ceremonial ka-ching of cash registers and swiping of charge cards. In terms of consumer spending, the holiday is second only to the Christmas-Hanukah-Kwanzaa juggernaut.

Americans are expected to spend $126.90 on Mother’s Day gifts this year, on average, with total spending likely to reach $14.6 billion. The breakdown? 1.9 billion spent on flowers, 2.9 billion on restaurants for Mother’s Day dining; 2.5 billion for jewelry for Mom. Another seven billion, give or take a billion, will be divvied up between Mom-inspired purchases of clothes and accessories, gift certificates, spa services and personal electronics (Hey, what mother doesn’t want an iPhone?) And those greeting cards so execrated by Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day? Total sales of $671 million. Ka-ching!

Mothers—and Mother’s Day—deserve better. A woman, your mother, risks her life to bring you into the world, and to thank her you take her to Red Lobster? She nurtures and guides you from infancy into adulthood—and she gets a bouquet of commercially grown flowers? She transforms your family house into a home, and you reward her with earrings?

Mother’s Day gifts will never—can never—have a tangible value commensurate with a mother’s love, wisdom, sacrifices and hard work. What’s missing in the Mother’s Day trove of flowers, jewelry, nice restaurants and high-tech gimcracks is something more profound and more important: symbolism.

Symbolism speaks to the soul, engages the imagination, and provides lasting inspiration. You won’t find it online, in a department store or boutique. You can’t buy it, and it’s not for sale. There’s only one way you can get it or give it: you create it.

This year, for Mother’s Day, honor your mother as she deserves to be—create a garden for her.

People knew what was up in Neolithic times. Ten thousand years ago, there were annual celebrations honoring the Mother-Goddess, who was worshipped around the world as a symbol of fecundity and renewal. People made sacrifices to her. The Mother-Goddess gave birth to agriculture, and with it, culture and society. I wonder if they called her Mom.

A Mother’s Day garden mirrors the motifs of conventional Mother’s Day offerings—but revealed in their pure, original, authentic splendor. In the garden there are flowers and fragrance, beautiful things to see, delicious things to eat. The garden itself is a sanctuary, a spa for the senses. You could look at it as a restaurant, where your fellow diners are butterflies and hummingbirds.

The garden represents a sublime reflection of mothers and families. New life arises here, provided with a compatible habitat (e.g. the flower bed), nurtured into growth and bloom, and furnishing the seeds of coming generations. Are we not all seeds, and our mothers master gardeners? Yes, we are, and yes, she is.

Brothers and sisters, for our Mother’s Day offerings, let us replace products with produce, Red Lobster with red, ripe tomatoes, earrings with ears of corn. Let’s convey our gratitude, not with greeting cards, but with a message inscribed in flowers, fruits and vegetables, redolent with flavor, fragrance and color.

The garden connects us to the earth, the elements, the seasons, the past and future, the sun and stars, the life of the planet, the very origins of life. Now that’s a gift worthy of Mom.

Ms. Jarvis would, I think, agree.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 at 2:15 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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13 Responses to “Our Love Is Growing”

  1. Judy said:

    I loved what you had to say. I agree completely. Just spending time with your Mother would mean more than a gift or a meal.

  2. Sara Jane Bowell said:

    My mother was an inspiration to all who knew her as mother, daughter, sister, aunt, grandma, elementary teacher, friend, wife, daughter-in-law, gardener par excellence. Trees and flowering bushes are being planted this spring in her memory. Thank you for this enlightening article

  3. Karen Garner said:

    I enjoyed this column very much,however, I want to take issue with some of your comments. A lot of us women already have sizable gardens and flower beds. We don’t need another one to take care of, and I for one really enjoy a beautiful bouquet of flowers which I didn’t grow myself. Another point: our grown children are quite scattered throughout the states, an impossibility when one is thinking of taking their mom fresh produce or some such. All mothers appreciate any little remembrance on that special day, no matter how small. Commercial? Yes, it is,but the alternative of totally ignoring that day is far worse. Doing service for one’s mother would be a different type of gift if one lived close enough.
    My own mother passed on in 2007,I never forgot to wire a glorious bouquet to her. Why? Because I new that was one of the loves of her life. Flowers. Although she had”brown thumbs” as she often said. They brought her joy.

  4. joel said:

    Great piece of human History , thakn you.
    In France Napoleon had the idea of a Mother’s day to help fight the population’s thining {He knew more than anyone why} it came back after the American movement but was not signed into law in 1950 by then President Auriol. most of the Country do celebrate mother’s day but for the Chinese who stop at 35? most country celebrate mother’s day in May but for argentina which does it in October , my guess is because of the seasons , it is spring there . Thanks Joel.

  5. Claudette said:

    I absolutely loved it. It was just beautiful. Incredibly touching nd right on. Any holiday has come to nothing but marketing hype; give me your money, give me your money, give me your money… Expensive cards with other peoples sentiments to be thrown away, other peoples food, meaningless gifts. You’re right. Very sad. It’s a good thing that gardening makes us feel so good.

  6. lainey said:

    Thanks George!
    I agree. I also think that Mothers should teach their children how to garden. I am grateful every season, not just on Mothers Day, when my children point out the beauty in the perennial garden which we planted eight years ago. They are thrilled to see the surprise of the first snow drops and crocus preceeding the beautiful show of color and the intoxicating sweet perfume of several varities of narcissus, fritillaria, hyacinths, bleeding hearts,sweet woodruff,forget- me-nots, peonies, lilacs, allium, geraniums, baptisia …through October with japanese anenome and lilies. Throughout our yard we have rescued many trillium, maypoles, jack in the pulpit,wild ginger,geranium, hepatica,violets and created a shade garden where they are protected and can multiply. So, it isn’t about the “gifts” we receive, but rather the gift of being able to teach our children to appreciate the beauty in nature and to pass on the love for flowers and the joy in gardening. Recently, I was looking outside to find two of my chilren on a hunt for trillium in our yard!I will also never forget the day my son presented me with a lone fritillaria found in our woods!Those are the best gifts!
    I am blessed.

  7. Sus said:

    Lovely thoughts–thanks

  8. andy said:

    They don’t make Mother’s Day like they used to. Signed into being with Woodrow Wilson’s 1917 Presidential Proclamation???????

    from Wikipedia – maybe things are actually better now -even with the comercialisation!!

    During the sixteenth century, people returned to their mother church for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either a large local church, or more often the nearest Cathedral.[1] Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “a-mothering”, although whether this preceded the term Mothering Sunday is unclear. In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since in other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours.”

  9. Sue said:

    What a lovely thought! My greatest wish for mom’s day when our children were small was to sleep late! Now my greatest joy is when our three sons, who are all adults, can spend the day with us, grill out and as a gift, they give me a day (or two!) of work in the garden. I am blessed.

  10. Effie Ambler said:

    Right on, brother!

  11. ZuVuYah said:

    Love the writing! I am however, smirking at the idea of you plugging giving Mom a garden since that is the business you are running! My Mom was responsible for all things garden for decades and now lives in a senior apartment. Sadly, she has forbidden me to buy anything for her that needs tending. I bring her organic, local delicious food on a regular basis and when in season, local flowers….Thanks for the herstory of this event.

  12. tomoko matsuyama said:

    thank you for your essay. I am happy to share the same sprite and idea. I have declined my son and his wife to send mother’s day flowers when I first received flowers from them a couple of years ago. I have believed this is wrong, too commercialism. Mother’s day is just for mother’s heart, not sending something to mother as if sons and daughters want to be free from guilty. On mother’s day,I am having a small bbq party here in my garden with many flowers and plants. I am very happy in my garden. Plants do not tell lies. they show their sincerity and trust to me. tomoko

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