How Mothers day has become both a commercially and emotionally important day on the calendar

Words By By Hanani Aslam

I’m not a mum, but as the designated ‘mum friend’ of the group, my best friends wish me a happy Mother’s Day. It started out as a joke. A way to show their appreciation for all the times I looked out for them, made sure they were taking their medicine when they were sick, or left a glass of water by their bedside after a night out. 

Who a mother is can vary, but everyone has a mother. Someone who has cared for us, provided for us, helped shape our lives. Regardless of whether it’s because of genetics or the environment you were raised in, or even the ‘mum friend’ of your friend group, Mother’s Day is a day to honour these mothers. 

In the UK Mother’s Day – formally known as Mothering Sunday – falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. While Mothering Sunday has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, its origins were separate from the secular holiday we know today. The word “mothering” referred to the “mother church”, where people would return to their mother church to attend a special service on Laetare Sunday. 

The secular (and incredibly commercialised) version of the day as we know it today was ignited in response to the American Mother’s Day, which was invented by Anna Jarvis in 1908. She wanted to honour her mother and help reunite families who had been divided during the Civil War. Inspired by the success of Mother’s Day in America, Constance Adelaide Smith started the Mothering Sunday Movement. 

Now, the celebration has been fused with the Hallmark-card-giving,breakfast-in-bed traditions of the American holiday, but it has retained its traditional name and date in the UK. 

For many, Mother’s Day is a time to reflect and show gratitude to the women and mothers who have been mentors and caregivers. 

‘I’ve had to have very long distanced relationships with my family so Mother’s Day is very meaningful,’ she says Afsha Jameel, a final year law and sociology student at the University of Kent. She moved away from the Maldives to the UK when she was 15 and has spent most Mother’s Days away from her family.

‘The distance has made me have an even greater appreciation for my mother and everything she’s done for me,’ she tells me.  

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, distancing has become the new normal. Like many others, Afsha is unable to visit her mum for Mother’s Day. Instead, she’s arranged for gifts to be sent and coordinated with her siblings to ‘spoil’ their mum. 

‘Everything is very much online, so there’ll be a lot of video calls. It’s sad that we won’t have the physical contact but the time we spend together will be the same in spite of the pandemic.’ 

While often Mother’s Day is a celebration of the brilliant people who pushed children out of their bodies, it is also a day to appreciate and celebrate the other maternal figures in our lives. The grandmothers, stepmothers, the foster mothers, the mothers-in-law, the godmothers – all of whom are equally important because the maternal figure can mean such  different things from person to person. 

Afsha makes sure to wish her grandmother and aunts happy Mother’s Day because ‘they have that role in their lives and are a mother figure.’ 

Though there is a Grandparent’s Day and an Aunt and Uncle’s Day, they aren’t as commercially successful as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. The greeting card industry and other businesses thrive on extra sales of flowers and gifts on holidays like these. Consumers spend for Mother’s Day in 2019 nearly reached the 1.6 billion mark. 

Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day resented the commercialisation of her idea. 

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Ms Jarvis said. By 1943, she was so concerned at the commercial takeover of her holiday that she got together a petition to rescind Mother’s Day.

Yet despite her efforts, Mother’s Day is here to stay. The holiday where you usually get together as a family for brunch or afternoon tea. But with coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures, many of these traditions will have to be postponed. Families across the country are finding other ways to spend Mother’s Day together even if they’re forced to be apart. 

Sometimes it can be easy to forget the people in our lives who care for and nurture us. We all have different relationships with our mothers. My own mother and I have our good days, where we get along and can bond with each other, and we have our bad days, where we make passive aggressive comments until one of us gives. It’s usually her that gives in and knocks on my door, cup of tea in hand, and we move past the fact that I forgot to do the dishes. 

Whether we have a strong relationship with our mother, only communicate on such occasions, or have sadly lost our mother, Mother’s Day can have a diverse plethora of meanings from person to person..

Loss has been a shared experience this past year. For some, like myself, it might be a Mother’s Day without a key mother figure in their life. Having recently lost my grandmother – who was the mother to my own mother and raised me as much as my mother did – it’s made me more appreciative of the time we had together and how she helped shape who I am today. 

For me, my gift to my mum is giving her the gift of time together. After years of being away from her on a separate  continent, I know that spending time together is much more appreciated than an array of material gifts. 

Take this as an opportunity to celebrate all the mothers in your life – from the one who gave birth to you, to the ones who played a role in caring and nurturing you, and to all those who helped shaped you into who you are today.

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