Mother’s Day is a central fixture in how American culture celebrates families. Far from being a tradition born in the United States, the practice of highlighting the importance of mothers has been a global custom for centuries. Thus, each holiday congregations celebrate together emphasizes the vital role churches play in encouraging and facilitating immigrant integration in their communities.
The earliest traces of modern-day Mother’s Day can be linked back to Ancient Greece and Rome, where these celebrations centered on goddesses who were mothers. However, in the 16th century the Christian religion became the dominant faith in Europe and pushed forward a celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, individuals would visit the churches where they were baptized. While returning to their “Mother Church,” participants left various offerings and shared the celebration with their local community and family. In the 17th century, a clerical order was issued to expand the honor beyond that of the Virgin Mary to include all mothers. Consequently, children and families sought to provide tokens of appreciation for the mothers in their lives as well.
In the United States, the holiday’s origins date back to 1905. The “founder” was Anna Jarvis, who, following her mother’s passing, sought to commemorate a day to honor the sacrifices that mothers make for their children. Jarvis organized the first celebration of Mother’s Day at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia, in May 1908. The success of the event helped her make the case for an official national celebration. Following a series of letter writing campaigns, her efforts were rewarded in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday in May as the national day to celebrate mothers. In this proclamation, the president stated Mother’s Day was to be "a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country."
Today, Mother’s Day is primarily a secular holiday with parishes choosing to celebrate both Mary and members who are mothers in unique ways. Some parishes, such as St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, expand the meaning of ‘mother’ to include one’s mother country. This parish offers multi-lingual rosaries and Mass during the holiday weekend. A “parade of nations,” like that of the signature event at the Olympic Games, is held along with an international food festival.
The importance of the family, and the role of mothers in particular, is not uniquely American. Cultures around the globe depend on mothers to nurture children and teach their family’s customs and traditions, and in some instances, lead the household. By making a way for people to honor their mothers in ways that are special to them, even with something as simple as multi-lingual services, parishes are encouraging unity and open-mindedness. Most importantly, they are bringing worshippers together as one congregation, which is the ultimate tribute to the unifier of most families, mothers.
This Mother’s Day, celebrate your mom or the moms at your parish by donating to CLINIC at cliniclegal.org/donate. Your generosity will allow our network to continue fighting to keep immigrant families together.