Although the modern Mother’s Day was invented and trademarked in the early 20th century in the USA, celebrations of mothers and motherhood throughout the world have their roots in ancient festivals held to celebrate goddesses, fertility and the changing seasons.
In ancient times, the celebration of motherhood focused on religion and the supernatural. Mother goddess statuettes dating back to the early 4th millennium BC have been found in Iran, and over 2000 years ago, the Egyptians built temples in the desert to worship Isis, the patron goddess of childbirth and motherhood. The Romans adopted her too, and held the Festival of Isis to commemorate important battles and mark the beginning of winter. The three-day celebration featured mostly-female dancers, musicians and singers.
In India, festivals have been held for hundreds of years celebrating the divine mother Durga, worshipped in Hinduism as the mother of the universe and believed to be the power behind the creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. In Central America, the Aztecs worshipped Tlazolteotl, a goddess of purification, steam baths, midwives, and filth – what a woman! (She was also the patroness of adulterers…)
But in more recent times, as well as celebrating the symbols of motherhood, we have begun to focus more on celebrating the person.
In the UK, Mothering Sunday has traditionally been celebrated as part of Lent. Probably dating from the 16th century, by Victorian times it had become a custom to give one’s domestic staff a day off during Lent to visit their family home and go to church. This was one of the few days of the year a whole family could be together, as young people were often employed as domestic staff in the ‘big house’ miles away. Wages were too low for gift buying, so these young people would bake cakes and bring flowers, picked on their journey home, for their church and their mothers.
These days, buying a gift for your mother can be a wee bit more complicated. Although most mothers would be happy with some spring flowers or a home-baked cake (but don’t leave the kitchen in a mess!), we’re encouraged to believe that a giant bunch of roses, the finest Belgian chocolates, or an Ipad are the only acceptable gifts for Mother’s Day. Research from 2012 showed that £409m was spent on Mother’s Day gifts in the UK, with 21 million gift purchases – that’s an average of almost £30 per mum.
But doesn’t all this commercialisation miss the point? Has it become all about what fathers can buy for the mothers of their children, rather than what the kids themselves can do to show their appreciation of their mothers? It might sound cheesy, but the best Mother’s Day present I’ve ever received was a box of kisses – it was handed over by the small person with a solemn promise that it would be refilled when it was empty…
What will make you smile on Mother’s Day? Me? I’ll be satisfied with an extra hour or two in bed, watching old episodes of Doctor Who on my creaky laptop. If there’s some breakfast with that, all the better, but I’ll be happy with lots of cups tea and the company of David Tennant.
And remember, spare a thought for the poor dads in all of this – the average spend for Fathers day is just £14.45, and we are twice as likely to forget Father’s Day altogether! So, while Sunday 10 March will be all about the mums, I’m going to take some time to speak to my wee dad too.