Mother’s Day is a major holiday on the American holiday calendar. Because it’s considered a secular holiday, it’s generally not controversial in the way that official celebration of religious holidays can be. It will be celebrated on Sunday, May 11 in 2014.
The idea of a holiday, which means “holy day,” which has no religious content is a paradox. Anything we call a holiday connects us to the holy, whether we see it or not. The commercial trappings of holiday gift shopping can obscure the meaning of any holiday, and it’s hard to see holiness in a preprinted Mother’s Day card with art and sentiment written by someone else, mass produced out of dead trees, sold in a rack next to the livelihoods of other sellout poets, taxed at the cash register, and merely signed by the supposed giver. Far better to give mother something that came from the heart, even if it’s not as pretty or professional.
Gifting relationships are special to everyone, but to pagans and heathens who relate with their gods primarily as gifting relationships, they take on added significance. If one cannot produce something with one’s own heart and hands and soul that would please one’s own mother, how could one hope to please one’s gods? As both magic and religious sacrifice are about intent, not dollar value, so it is with gifts for one’s living human parents, who will, depending on one’s tradition and the course of one’s life, someday be the ancestors to whom one makes sacrifices in addition to those one makes to the gods, the land spirits, fairies, and any other beings with which one develops a gifting relationship. Giving to one’s living mother and father, should one be so lucky as to have them, is practice for giving to those less substantial beings who will not necessarily communicate in words what they would like.
If your mother has left this world, the traditions of your particular path will tell you how to communicate with her or sacrifice to her. The sorts of things to give will be the same sorts of things she would have liked in life. If she liked humor, or purchased books of modern poetry, perhaps she really would like a commercial Mother’s Day card. If not, it is your job as your child to know her well enough to know what she wants from you, in exactly the same way that it is part of the job of a priestess or witch to know what the gods want. These are the same type of relationship; lucky people will be able to develop this relationship with a living person, who speaks one’s language, on Earth, in a physical human body, before trying to apply it beyond the grave or to noncorporeal entities.
Mother’s Day has two major competing creation myths. The most widely known one is the one that accounts for the old black and white pictures we’ve all seen of women who appear to be parading through the streets. The Mother’s Day of yesteryear was not a day to give flowers to your mother. It was a day for mothers of soldiers to march in war protests. It morphed into a day for children to give tokens of appreciation to their mothers. Greeting card companies may have had something to do with that, and with the proliferation of analogous me-too holidays.
The other Mother’s Day origin story is that it was invented as a reaction against feminism. In this version of the story, Mother’s Day did not start with grassroots peace activists but with powerful members of the patriarchy who wanted to keep women in their place, and got politicians to make it an official holiday to emphasize that a woman’s role in life was to be a mother. In this version, “feminism” is understood as “the woman suffrage movement” of the late 1800s to early 1900s rather than the 1970s movement actually called feminism.
Which one is true? Both and neither. Mother’s Day the peace movement predated Mother’s Day the official holiday considerably, but it’s unlikely that a U.S. President would have signed a protest march holiday into law. Mother’s Day as it appears on the calendar probably came from politicians.
Neither of the current Mother’s Day origin stories looks back further than the existence of the United States, but an official day set aside to honor, visit, and give gifts to one’s mother dates back to the 14th Century in Europe. Mothering Sunday was part of the Lenten season in the Catholic Church calendar. There were traditional Mothering Sunday carols about going “a-mothering,” just like traditional Christmas carols and Easter carols. The holiday as it exists today is closer in spirit to Mothering Sunday than to either a war protest or an anti-feminist protest, and so may have been influenced by the church calendar holiday.
Celebrating Mother’s Day the modern American way means honoring one’s mother, spending time with her, and giving her gifts. Those whose mothers have passed on, and who believe in an eternal soul, can still give mother a gift on this day, it will simply be a gift in the realm of sacrifice. Find or make something mother would like, and listen to her, living or ascended beyond. It really is the thought that counts.
[Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. Her writing and publishing career began in 1985. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc. In the print era she was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine and owned The Science Fiction Store, and she publishes the shared world Time Yarns.]