Mother’s Day is a time to honor motherhood and show our appreciation to moms of all kinds, including wives, sisters, and grandmas, for all their hard work and sacrifice. In the United States, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 9, 2021, and it’s customary to shower mothers with gifts, such as flowers and jewelry, on this special day. But what exactly are the origins of Mother’s Day? As with many holidays, the history behind Mother’s Day is based on both ancient and modern traditions from around the world. Keep reading to learn more about why we celebrate Mother’s Day, how it’s observed globally, and gift ideas.

Mother's Day founders

History of Mother’s Day

Historically, mothers have always held essential roles in society. From Marie Curie, the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, to former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, moms have changed the world. For this reason, numerous individuals gather to celebrate all forms of motherhood on Mother’s Day, and we have a few extraordinary women to thank for that.

Ann Reeves Jarvis

In 1858, Ann Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, established Mothers’ Work Days during the Civil War in an effort to improve sanitation for soldiers and children. She also helped start a club to teach women how to take care of children.  You see, as a mother, she had lost eight out of her twelve children due to poor sanitation conditions. 

When the Civil War broke out in the United States, she asked various members of the clubs she helped organize to pledge that the war wouldn’t interfere with their work. They vowed to provide medical care and assist those with illnesses regardless of which side they were fighting on.  She then started Mother’s Friendship Day as a day to promote the reconciliation between Union and Confederate soldiers.

Julia Ward Howe

Around this time, Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist, writer, and suffragette, wrote a Mother’s Day Proclamation to ask mothers to join her in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned to establish a Mother’s Day of Peace in order to achieve world peace and resolve the conflicts between human beings. She was greatly inspired by the work of Ann Reeves Jarvis. 

Anna Jarvis

It wasn’t until Ann Reeves Jarvis’ daughter, Anna, came along that Mother’s Day became the widely recognized holiday we know and love today. After the death of Anna’s mother in 1905, she wanted to create a memorial day to honor mothers who had passed away and acknowledge the sacrifices mothers endure for their children.

The first official Mother’s Day celebration was held in Grafton, West Virginia at a local church on May 10, 1908. Thanks to the financial backing of John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia business owner, this Mother’s Day was an enormous success. On this day, thousands of people also showed up to a simultaneous Mother’s Day event occurring at one of Wanamaker’s stores. If you go to this church today, you can find the International Mother’s Day Shrine.

Seeing how successful this first Mother’s Day event was, Anna vowed to make it a national holiday. She tirelessly wrote to politicians and newspapers from around the country, asking them to adopt the day and celebrate motherhood. Soon, the tradition caught on and spread to 45 other states, and several of them even declared it an official holiday in 1912 and after.

Finally, in 1914, former President Woodrow Wilson announced the first national celebration of Mother’s Day. Now, Mother’s Day is celebrated every second Sunday in May.

Mothering Sunday infographic

What is the Meaning of Mothering Sunday?

In the UK and certain parts of Europe, one of the clearest traditions of Mother’s Day stems from Mothering Sunday. Originally, it was a religious holiday that was observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This day was meant for individuals to find their way back to their “mother church,” which was the church nearest to them, for a special service. Churchgoers would also take this as an opportunity to reunite with family after being away due to work.

Historians have many theories on the Mothering Sunday origins, including that the tradition developed from children picking up flowers as they walked to church or that the holiday name refers to a reading found in the bible. Mothering Sunday has now shifted into less of a religious holiday and is a day that everyone can celebrate. People in the UK take the time to honor mothers, such as birthmothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, and mothers-in-law.

 Before the switch happened, people would celebrate with a Simnel cake, a fruit cake made with almond paste and 11 marzipan balls to represent the 11 disciples. Since the tradition changed to a more secular one, children now often give their moms flowers, presents, and homemade cards. People may also invite their mothers out to a nice brunch, lunch, or dinner. This year, Mothering Sunday falls on Sunday, March 14, 2021.

Mother's Day graphs

Where did the tradition of Mother’s Day come from?

Although Mother’s Day as we know it has more recent roots, early Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to festivals held by ancient Greeks and Romans. In ancient Greece, people would honor Rhea, the wife of Cronus and mother of the gods. People from all over Greece would offer Rhea food, drinks, and flowers.

The Romans also celebrated a different mother of the gods named Cybele, or Magna Mater, which means Great Mother. The Romans even went as far as to dedicate a temple to her, and in March they would participate in the Festival of Hilaria and provide gifts for the goddess.

Today, most people celebrate their moms by purchasing or making gifts and giving them a much-needed day off. Chocolates, flowers, and cards remain the most popular Mother’s Day gifts. In fact, in 2020, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that Americans spent approximately $2.67 billion on Mother’s Day.

Mother's Day map of celebrations

How is Mother’s Day Celebrated?

Although Mother’s Day is traditionally a western concept, the holiday has become incredibly popular worldwide.  Mothers everywhere are honored on certain days, sometimes even with grand festivals or parades. We’ll explore the ways in which people in the U.S. and abroad honor their mothers and celebrate the occasion.

United States

In the U.S., Mother’s Day is a time to shower your mom with gifts. Whether you’re looking to go all out or stay within your budget, there are many ways to celebrate Mother’s Day in the U.S. Here are a few of our favorite Mother’s Day activities

  • Kick-off Mother’s Day morning by surprising her with her favorite breakfast foods. If she likes to start her day with coffee, include a gourmet coffee gift basket as an extra special touch.
  • Enjoy the holiday by spending the day together. If you have a family of your own, chances are you don’t see your mom as often as you’d like. Make the day memorable by doing activities she’s always wanted to do.
  • If you live far away, call your mom and invite her to a virtual brunch date. DIY some tasty mimosas, dress up for the occasion (or stay in pajamas), and chat the afternoon away while enjoying each other’s company. You can also send your mom a sweet greeting card with Mother’s Day quotes she loves. 

Whatever you decide, your mom will appreciate all the effort you put into making Mother’s Day unforgettable. 

Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, Mother’s Day is celebrated a bit differently. Once the rainy season is over, families will gather for the Antrosht festival. During the span of three days, there will be dancing, singing, and lots of food. It’s customary for daughters to supply vegetables and cheese, while sons bring the meat. 

Thailand

Mother’s Day in Thailand is observed on August 12 to commemorate the birthday of Queen Sirikit. Festivities for the holiday include parades and gifting jasmine to mothers.

Russia

When Russia was still known as the Soviet Union, mothers were honored on March 8, International Women’s Day. In 1998, Mother’s Day was officially established as the last Sunday of November. However, many people still celebrate in March. 

Nepal

In Nepal, Mother’s Day is known as Mata Tirtha Aunsi, which means “Mother Pilgrimage New Moon.” On this day, individuals will cherish the time spent with their mothers and remember all those who have passed away.

Despite these differences, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Mother’s Day. No matter where you’re from, people gather to celebrate their mothers and motherhood with much love and gratitude. Interested in learning more about global Mother’s Day traditions? Check out our Mother’s Day Traditions Around the World post.

Mother's Day flowers and card 

Gifts to Send for Mother’s Day

Now that we’ve covered the origins of Mother’s Day celebrations, how do you show your gratitude and love toward your mom? It’s not easy to express your feelings, especially when actions speak louder than words. This Mother’s Day, share a gift that’s just as unique as she is and that she’ll cherish forever.

While popular gifts include chocolate and jewelry, there are a variety of options you can choose from if you’ve simply hit a dead end. No matter what her interests and hobbies are, we can help you find a gift that she’ll absolutely love. Below, you’ll find a few amazing Mother’s Day gifts to send. 

  • For mothers who need a day to unwind and relax, send her a spa day gift basket with all the essentials she needs to make her DIY spa day a success. From lotion to body butter and cozy slippers, she’ll have a perfect day of relaxation while at home.
  • Is she a wine enthusiast? Send your mom her favorite wine along with a quality cutting board and a meat and cheese gift. Our meat and cheese gift baskets include a cutting board and delicious pairings to make your own charcuterie board at home. Who doesn’t love a good wine night?
  • What better way to show your mom you love her than with a floral arrangement? Flowers are a classic gift for a reason, and we can help you deliver fresh blooms straight to her door. If you’re looking for traditional Mother’s Day flowers, opt for carnations, daisies, lilies, roses, and tulips.  

Finding the right gift to send mom doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re struggling to select a gift that’ll wow your mom, think about the activities she likes to pursue in her free time. For instance, does she enjoy tending to her garden on a warm summer day? If so, consider purchasing her gardening tools, such as gloves, pruning shears, and a watering can. Or does she love DIY projects and creating things with her bare hands? Consider giving her a sewing machine, embroidery kit, adult coloring book, or a toolbox. As long as the gift comes from the heart, your mom will be sure to love it.

This year Mother’s Day is on Sunday, May 9, 2021, so remember to mark your calendar! The last thing you want to do is forget this important holiday. If Mother’s Day does seem to sneak up on you, we have an extensive assortment of same-day flowers that’ll make it just in time for the festivities without your mom ever knowing. Don’t worry—it’ll be our secret.