Mother's Day: how tea and toast became a commercial horror

Mar 8, 2013

Even the American woman who invented Mother's Day came to hate its commercialisation

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HOW did Mother's Day, redolent of homemade gifts and breakfast in bed, mutate into the commercial extravaganza we know today? That's the question Beverley Turner poses in the Daily Telegraph on the eve of this year's Mother's Day in Britain.

"Tea and toast with a little trip to the local church used to be all mothers expected," says Turner. "Now it's all about mani-pedis, expensive meals, and Starbucks Gift Cards inside Moonpig envelopes."

Turner struggles to imagine what Anna Jarvis, the American woman whose 1907 remembrance service for her own late mother, Ann, sparked the idea of the modern Mother's Day, would think of it all.

As Jarvis's vision spread, she eventually became one of the "most vociferous" opponents of Mother's Day, dedicating her sizeable inheritance to fighting lawsuits to halt its commercialisation in the United States. In 1923 she famously crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia. When she tried the same thing again two years later, she was arrested for disturbing the peace.

"Jarvis soon realised that she had created a many-fingered monster, spreading inexorably across the planet, fertilised by cash registers," Turner notes.

In the US and Canada, Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. In Britain, where it arrived from the States after World War II, it coincides with the older tradition of Mothering Sunday - the fourth Sunday of Lent, three weeks before Easter.

Turner claims she'll be happy with homemade gifts made by her three children this Sunday. But not all parents are so relaxed. As Denis Kilcommons writes in the Huddersfield Examiner, Sunday represents "the mother of all commercial opportunities". But don't get him wrong, he's got nothing against mothers.

"I freely acknowledge that all mothers do a wonderful job," he writes. "What annoys me is the commercialisation that enters any occasion – Christmas, birthdays, Valentine days, mothers days, fathers days, Uncle Herbert days, my pet dog days, stay-in-bed days and holy days of obligation. Anything that started out innocently is now layered in compulsory expense."

Those who do bend to the creeping commercialisation of Mother's Day won't just face the disapproval of Anna Jarvis from beyond the grave. They'll also find it a struggle to find the right flowers.

Claire Taylor, of the British Daffodil Growers' Association, has warned of a shortage ahead of Sunday, telling the Daily Telegraph: "Mother's Day is usually one of our busiest times of the year and normally we are racing around picking daffodils... But this year the cold weather means we are way behind. We have only picked half the number of daffodils compared to last year".

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