Why Mother’s Day is So Popular in America…

by Rupa

and My Dilemma Surrounding Mother’s Day!

Although it seems like a universal holiday now, did you know that Mother’s Day has always been a predominantly western tradition? This holiday celebrated with gusto in countries like America, Canada and Australia was little known to people in Asian countries like India, where I come from. Here, the concept of Mother’s Day started gaining popularity only over the last decade or two. Growing up, I don’t remember celebrating Mother’s Day, or for that matter Father’s Day or any of these modern holidays my cousins, nieces and nephews in India celebrate today.

You probably know the history behind Mother’s Day and how Anna Jarvis is credited with starting the tradition in honor of her mother, Mrs. Reese Jarvis.  Many in America adopted the holiday in 1908, but it was in 1914, that the Presidential proclamation declared the 2nd Sunday in May as Mother’s Day to honor all mothers.

When I think about why the holiday is considered so important in America, and why it took decades for its appeal to reach other countries, a couple of probable reasons pop up in my head.

Children move out of their parents’ house in America. Not the case in many Asian or Middle-eastern countries. Children continued living with their parents even after becoming adults, unless there was a pressing need to move out, such as educational or career opportunities in a different city. Sons continued to live with their parents post-marriage, while daughters moved into their husbands’/ in-laws’ place. Parental ties remained strong regardless. Daughters returned to their parent’s place during pregnancy and/or child birth and stayed for a few months afterwards.  Sons dutifully cared for their parents until the very end. Joint families were common and so, one probably never saw the need to set aside a day to spend time with his mother or to bring her flowers. Parents and children were an integral part of each other’s lives.  Each pitched in towards bringing in income or carrying out household chores.  My guess: They probably depended on each other and saw each other a lot more than in the West. So, the idea of celebrating a special holiday for a certain member of the family may simply never have occurred. Whereas in the west, where it’s very common for kids to move out of their parents home during their teenage years to lead independent lives – the need to allocate a day to celebrate and honor one’s parents is understandable.

In countries like Indiatraditionally, parents were honored, revered, implicitly obeyed and routinely consulted. Not just on a special holiday or during a particular season, but all the time. Respecting one’s parents was considered a sacred duty and serving them, a privilege. So, though there may have been no ‘Mother’s Day’, children never set out on an important mission without seeking their parents’ blessings – be it a test at school, a performance or one’s wedding.  Bringing flowers and greeting cards may not have been in vogue, but children cared for aging, disabled or sick parents without a second thought. It was just assumed that children would look after their parents just as their parents had cared for them. So, you see, in a way, everyday was Mother’s or Father’s day.

Expressing feelings with material gifts is a relatively modern, western concept. You don’t have to think long and hard to figure out that marketers and retailers benefit the most from these holidays. Sure, your flowers, gifts and dinner treats may thrill mom, but she probably would be just as happy if you simply paid her a visit or spent a few hours with her without splurging on gifts.  In many cultures and countries, exchange of gifts within a family was unheard of until very recently. The idea that material gifts express one’s feelings didn’t exist. Consumers in America and other western, capitalist countries on the other hand, aren’t new to this. Spending money on ‘things’ and exchanging gifts on special occasions has been part of the culture here for several decades.

My Mother’s Day Dilemma

So, you see, I have mixed feelings about celebrating Mother’s Day. My mother is my best friend, teacher, guide and confidante. We talk every day. We read each other’s minds on many occasions.  We have no secrets. She is my strength, inspiration and reality check.  On one hand, I see the rationale behind celebrating a holiday in her honor.  On the other hand, I don’t see how I could just pick one random day of the year to treat her in a special way, to give her my attention and a gift and to make her feel appreciated. This is the dilemma I face every year as Mother’s Day approaches. I send her flowers and a mothers day cards or ecards in keeping with holiday tradition. But, the second Sunday of May is not necessarily the only day when I feel like honoring her.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s the everyday moments – the jokes and secrets we share, the problems she helps me with, the advice we give each other, the little tiffs – those are the things that cement our mother-daughter bond. Not the bouquet of roses I send her once a year.

What do Mother’s Day traditions mean to you?