Mother's Day may be commercialised but it is still special for many

Mother's Day may have become too commercialised over the years but many families still believe it is worth celebrating, writes Karen Pittar

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 11:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 May, 2014, 12:07pm

Every second Saturday in May, Monique Roth, mother of two, makes sure she gets an early night because the next day she'll be awake at the crack of dawn. While for many mothers, Mother's Day is a chance to relax and sleep in, this isn't the case in the Roth household.

"Every morning on Mother's Day, at an ungodly hour, our daughters [nine-year-old Avery and seven-year-old Sloane], with the help of their father, make me breakfast in bed," says Roth with a smile. "Unfortunately, the girls are so excited they usually wake up earlier than normal to make breakfast, so sleeping in is a luxury that I don't get to experience on Mother's Day. The good thing is our girls are quite good at cooking so I can look forward to some nicely cooked eggs, toast with peanut butter - a personal favourite - coffee, and fruit arranged beautifully on a tray."

It's about more than the materialistic things - it's a lovely sentiment to give a card complete with heartfelt words but it's also important to put mother first during the day 
Felix henchman, made of paper

Next Sunday, May 11, Roth, along with hundreds of Hong Kong mothers will be woken and pampered by their families, who want to show just how much they appreciate mum.

Often considered a "modern" celebration, Mother's Day dates back more than 400 years and, today, it's celebrated on various dates in different countries. So, if you're from the UK or Ireland and feel as though Mother's Day has come around again incredibly quickly this year, it's because you already celebrated it on March 30. There are two main dates set aside for Mother's Day: in Britain and Ireland it's the fourth Sunday of March and for the US, Hong Kong, Australia and most of world, it's the second Sunday in May.

The reason for the discrepancy is a somewhat complicated history. Many believe the holiday's English origins can be found in the 16th century where, on Laetare Sunday (fourth Sunday in Lent), Christians would visit the main church in their region: the "mother church". This was also an era when children working as domestic servants would go home to visit family, and so the holiday known as "Mothering Sunday" evolved.

The American version finds its roots twisted around the country's bloody civil war and the story of Ann Marie Jarvis and her daughter Anna. Born in 1832 in the US, Ann Marie spent her life working to help the local community, in particular women and mothers. Among other things, she set up "Mother's Day Work Clubs" to help women suffering from tuberculosis. Eight of her 12 children died through illness, four during the US civil war, but Ann Marie carried on her work. She died at age 73 on the second Sunday in May, 1905. Three years later, her daughter Anna organised the first official Mother's Day celebration to honour her mother's life.

The story behind this US holiday was researched and documented in a 2010 dissertation by Katharine Antolini, a professor of history at West Virginia Wesleyan College. "[Anna] Jarvis designed her Mother's Day celebration based on a sentimental view of motherhood and domesticity; thus she envisioned a day venerating the daily services and sacrifices of mothers within the home. This sentimental design reflected her intimate view of motherhood as a daughter wishing to honour the memory of her own mother."

The holiday became a national celebration, thanks to then-President Woodrow Wilson, who, in 1914, proclaimed the day a holiday. Over the years Anna became resentful of the commercialisation of what she saw as "her" holiday; she believed Mother's Day should be a celebration of the home and of all that a mother does for her children.

"That is why part of her celebration was to come visit your mother on that day," Antolini told CBC News reporter Raman Nijjar. "You're thanking your mother for all the sacrifices she has made for you. So if you can't be at home that day, you send her a handwritten letter."

It's easy to understand Anna's concerns - there is no arguing the commercialisation of days like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day - but according to consumers and retailers alike, there are upsides to flowers, greeting cards and chocolates.

"Mother's Day is a wonderful opportunity to focus on mothers as individuals within the family unit," says Felix Henchman, owner of Hong Kong-based greeting card and gift distributor Made of Paper. "It is a chance to think about someone else in the family and make them feel special. Of course, there is a commercial side to it; the two go hand-in-hand. A lot of people aren't quite sure how to express themselves - they need help with what to say and this is where we come in."

Henchman finds cards with simple messages - like "I love you Mum" or "Best Mummy in the World" - sell best, along with simple, token gifts like a wine glass printed with "Mummy's Wine Glass".

"It's about more than the materialistic things - it's a lovely sentiment to give a card complete with heartfelt words but it's also important to put mother first during the day by simply making your bed, tidying your room or cooking a meal."

For some families, handmade treats, with a bit of modern-day technology thrown in, are part and parcel of the day.

"My husband, Albert, always does a great job of making Mother's Day special," says Margaret Yeh, a mother of three. "Usually, this means him and the kids making breakfast for me complete with gifts from the children: homemade accessories, jewellery boxes, bead crafts and more. And as for me in my role as daughter, we've started using the iPhone to make a video message and send it to my mother in the US. My Mum really gets a kick out of that. I'm really lucky to have my grandmother as well, so we treat her to the same gifts."

Roth says that being a mother herself has helped her better appreciate her own mum.

"I now know first hand what she went through raising my sister and I. It's not an easy job being a mother and oftentimes it's under-appreciated. I have told my mother more recently how much I appreciate her and all that she has done for me over the years. When I say the words now, I believe they have more meaning. I am speaking from experience."

According to parenting expert Katherine Winter-Sellery, it's these occasions that offer a forum in which to validate and appreciate one another.

"In our Effective Parenting course we learn that the best way to teach a value is to live the value. If you want your kids to grow up and value family connections, then you demonstrate the importance of these connections by honouring the relationships and setting time aside to demonstrate how valuable they are to you. Celebrations don't have to happen in the form of a "Mother's Day" but they can provide a structure to the celebration, especially if families are not in the habit of going around the dining room table every night expressing their feelings of why their connection to one another is meaningful to them."

So in the end, despite the commercialisation, perhaps there is a little of Anna Jarvis' spirit left in holidays like Mother's Day. After all, as Henchman points out, even if it's just an excuse to spend time together as a family, to value one another without the daily strains and stresses of life - how can that be a bad thing?