Columnist: Mother’s Day a great day for mom or for business?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 7, 2016

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

Most people don’t know how we began to celebrate Mother’s Day, which turns 102 this year.

Most of us whose mothers are still alive will take them to brunches, give them gifts, cards and through our actions express our love and appreciation for being a great parent.

In actuality, Mother’s Day is also great for business. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent nearly $170 for Mother’s Day in 2014. Total spending this year in celebrating our love to all moms is expected to exceed more than $20 billion. The United States National Restaurant Association reports that Mother’s Day is the year’s most popular holiday for dining out.

Hallmark cards which sold its first Mother’s Day card in the early 1920s reports that the day is the number three holiday for card exchanges in this country behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Today, Mother’s Day is celebrated across 46 countries — though on different dates — and is indeed a very popular affair.

Most of us don’t realize it, but Mother’s Day was never meant to be commercialized. It was Anna Jarvis who actually got the inspiration of celebrating Mother’s Day from her own mother in her childhood.

An activist and social worker, Jarvis brought to fruition her dream that someday someone must honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to the contributions made by them. Jarvis never had children of her own, but the 1905 death of her own mother inspired her to organize the first Mother’s Day observances in 1908.

Largely through her efforts, Mother’s Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states until President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 officially set aside the second Sunday in May for the holiday.

Jarvis fought against, however, the commercialization of the observance. For her it was a day where you should go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did.

Jarvis was successful in memorializing Mother’s Day into our consciousness. Her success turned to failure, at least in her own eyes.

Her idea of the observance being a family and intimate affair, quickly became a commercial goldmine — a development that deeply disturbed Jarvis. She became so incensed that she set about dedicating herself and her considerable inheritance to returning Mother’s Day to its reverent roots.

She began by incorporating herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, in a move to take control of the holiday. This woman on a mission to free Mother’s Day of commercialism organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits and was bold enough to even attack first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities.

Anna Jarvis’ aggressive and heroic attempts to reform Mother’s Day continued until at least the early 1940s. In 1948 she died at 84 in Philadelphia’s Marshall Square Sanitarium.

It has been said that Anna Jarvis, who died penniless in a sanitarium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother’s Day if she wanted to, but she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything — financially, mentally and physically.

What does Mother’s Day actually mean to you?

Is it just another commercialized affair in your family or does your mother indeed know that she is loved and appreciated? Is your show of appreciation expressed only on Mother’s Day or on other holidays? Is it a burden being around your Mother because the observance of the day is just a ritual — void of love?

I’ve had a number of friends over the years to express to me that they’ve not spoken to their mother in years. This is ludicrous! Are you at odds with your mom? Don’t you think it’s time to call and say, “I love you, mom,” before it is too late?

Do you believe in the biblical scripture, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12)? You should — it was important enough to be included in the 10 Commandments. It is a commandment with a promise — to honor your parents is to honor God.

I close by saying happy Mother’s Day to my own mother, Ernestine Dowell, who went to be with God in 1988. She died knowing a family genuinely loved her — the greatest tribute to a mother.

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at