Many cultures have celebrated a maternal goddess. The Greeks and the Romans had Cybele, a mother goddess whose followers worked themselves into a frenzy before ritually castrating themselves. If a less intimate display of affection was more to your liking then there was the option of having a bull sacrificed above you so that you were showered in its blood. These two methods of devotion are a bit like giving a Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. You should only carry them out if you are planning to clean up afterwards – otherwise she won’t thank you for it.
Mother’s Day as we know it is due to one Anna Jarvis. To thank her mother Anna had a church service in her honour in 1908. Whether Anna’s mum appreciated the thought we’ll never know – she’d died two years earlier. Anna campaigned for years to make Mother’s Day a holiday in the United States; finally she was successful in 1914. Sadly by the 1920s she was already disappointed with the commercialisation of the day. Anna’s ideal Mother’s Day gift was a white carnation. It was florists who, in an effort to sell more types of flower, developed wearing a white carnation if your mother was dead, a red carnation if she was alive, and a pink one if you weren’t sure. Ironically it has been commercialism that has kept the day alive. Retail sales have become too important to let mothers be forgotten.
Anna’s devotion to her mother is touching, and probably goes further than our own. This may well be due to our own more complicated relationship with our mothers. My mother may have given me the best she could, but I can’t avoid the nagging feeling that she may also be partly responsible for those parts of me I’m not so happy with.
She brought me into the world, brought me up, and then brought out a soggy handkerchief when I left home. She did her best over all those years, so I’m going to book that obligatory brunch and tell her when I’ll be picking her up. Then on Sunday I’ll collect her, and take her home afterwards; I’ll make sure that there’s enough time in between so she feels she’s had a day out, but not so much time that we start stabbing each other with café cutlery. Oh, and I’ll wear a carnation; hopefully it’ll be red for many years to come.