Mother’s Day then and now

Story and Photos by Jim Zang

Spring 2023

Contrary to popular belief, Mother’s Day wasn’t created by Hallmark.

In fact, early Mother’s Day celebrations date back to ancient Greek civilization where ceremonies were held each spring in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods.

Mother’s Day, as we know it, is a relatively modern construct generally attributed to a trio of Americans – Julia Ward Howe, Juliet Calhoun Blakely and Anna Jarvis – who played key roles at different stages in making Mother’s Day an annual occurrence.

Around 1870, in Boston, Ward Howe initiated an annual day of celebration which continued for 10 years under her sponsorship, but died out after that. Meanwhile, in Michigan, Calhoun Blakely was having her own Mother’s Day in the late 1800s and urging others to do the same. In 1907, Jarvis held a private celebration in West Virginia in memory of her mother and in 1908 arranged a special church service for mothers and children.

It was also Jarvis who came up with the idea of white carnation as the symbol of Mother’s Day and the International Mother’s Day Shrine located in Grafton, West Virginia. Don’t blame Jarvis for any perceived over-commercialization of Mother’s Day, however, as she actually filed a lawsuit (unsuccessfully) to try to stop that from happening.

A Mother’s Day International Association was founded in 1912 to promote the holiday to other countries and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Mother’s Day celebrations of one kind of another happen in many countries around the world with most (56), including Canada, celebrating on the second Sunday of May, which is May 14 in 2023. In China, carnations are a popular gift, while traditional Samoan celebrations include unique song and dance performances. Although it falls on a Sunday here, Mother’s Day is a public holiday in countries such as Costa Rica, Thailand and Samoa.

Although every culture has their own nuances, many of us in Canada choose to honour our moms on Mother’s Day by giving cards and gifts, flowers, having family gatherings, phone calls and the like.

For my own family, my brother, sister and I are heading over to my 83-year-old mom’s and her 90-year-old husband’s house for a family barbecue. A couple nights prior, I’m taking them to a play. It’s hard for them to get out much anymore and they appreciate the little things we can do for them.

In my mind, my mom and I have always had a special relationship. I think it’s that way with a lot of first-borns. I was her first baby and always will be. But, in our case, there’s more to it than that.

My mom and I actually started at the University of Calgary at the same time in the fall of 1979, me a very young-faced 17-year-old. My mom still reminds me of how, driving to U of C that very first day, I told her, in all my teenage narcissism, “Mom, if you see me in the halls or something pretend you don’t know me.” Nice, really nice. We also graduated from U of C the same year and have photos of us together in our gowns and caps. How many moms and kids can say that?

Today, not only do I say “Hi” to my mom if I see her in public, but I brag about her. I’m proud of my mom, for lots of reasons. For starters, she was (and is) a great mom. Ours was the house all the neighbourhood kids came to play at. Kids with sandy feet coming in and out of the house to the bathroom – not a problem. Make a couple of extra peanut butter sandwiches for lunch – not a problem. My mom even had a special way of making grilled cheese sandwiches that the gang called Mrs. Zang sandwiches.

Of course, there was the standard chauffeur duty – to swimming lessons, to hockey, to football – but my mom somehow managed to get it all done. Type and print off the weekly church bulletin – not a problem. Fill in for the organ player – not a problem. Run the teen girls church group – not a problem. Adult bible study, well, you get the idea.

She helped launch the Calgary Women’s Newspaper back in the day and was a member of the group that formed the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank. In the 1980s, she completed her Seminary studies and became one of the few ordained female Anglican priests in the country.

My mom is very talented creatively and passed some of that on. She is an accomplished oil on canvas artist, having sold a few paintings for a couple hundred dollars each back in the early ‘70s. I have ten of them hanging in my condo. My sister got the artistic gene. A couple of years ago, when my mom finished her first novel, I was her editor. Last year, when I finished my first novel, she was my biggest supporter.

Last year, she became the proud owner of a brand-new titanium knee, which she dealt with gracefully and courageously, calling on the inner strength that her deep faith provides.

Whatever your cultural tradition or family situation, think about your mom on Mother’s Day this Sunday. If you can be together, be together. If you can reach out, reach out. If you need to say a prayer, say it.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just start with “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!”