When you look at the fuzzy little head of your newborn and hold them to your breast, the concept of war is unthinkable. When you bounce your toddler boy on your lap, the idea of him being drafted to go kill other human beings is unimaginable. Now my baby boy is a teenager, the reality of the day he has to register for the draft looms closer. I think it's worth taking a moment to contemplate the origins of Mother's Day, before it was co-opted by the forces of commercialism.
In 1872, Juulia Ward Howe, the woman who wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic", proposed an annual Mother's Day for Peace. On the heels of the horrible carnage that was the Civil War (over half a million dead, the costliest war in our history), Howe was committed to idea of abolishing war. In her Mother's Day Proclamation, Howe wrote: "Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs".
For 40 years, Americans celebrated Mother's Day for Peace. Then, our memories of the horrors of war grew long, and the powerful forces of commercialism grew stronger. Mother's Day was moved from June into May, and businesses quickly saw the opportunity to co-opt a day of activism and turn it to a day of moneymaking. As a Florists' trade journal stated bluntly, "This was a holiday that could be exploited". And exploited it has been. Mother's day is now a billion dollar "industry" and the political activism of our great-great grandmothers is all but forgotten.
For myself, I've always asked that my family not buy me anything for Mother's Day. I don't need flowers or Hallmark cards. If they want to cook me breakfast or make me something handmade of course I am always grateful. My own Mother's Day tradition has always been to head out to a lake for my first open water swim of the year, and so yesterday we went over to the coast to a small inland lake and enjoyed the day as a family and with friends and I got to swim. But while our Mother's Day is not commercial, I've also discovered it's not really honoring the original intent of the day, so I am putting a note on my calendar for next April, I am pledging that I will find a way to celebrate Mother's Day by activism for peace, justice, and the good health of our land and our children.
Read the original Mother's Day Proclamation and more history of Mother's Day here, and pledge to take back Mother's Day for Peace!