Q: Should a Christian Observe Mother's Day?


A: The Bible is very explicit that we are to honor our parents at all times. For example, Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1-3 make this Christian duty very clear. In one of our recent Updates (Update #95), we explained that Jesus Christ honored His mother on a continuous basis.

To “honor” or “remember” our mother just on one particular day in the year, while forgetting to do so in day-to-day living, would, of course, be wrong. The world tries to make up for the forgetfulness to always honor one’s parents by dedicating a day to mothers. As Christians, we are to honor our parents at all times! This fact alone, would not preclude a Christian from participating in Mother’s Day celebrations.

However, the Bible makes it very clear that we are not to learn the religious ways or customs of the Gentiles, by embracing those customs in our own Christian lives. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Matthew 15:709, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). The Church has long taught that we are not to keep holidays such as Christmas, Easter, New Year’s or Valentine’s Day because of their pagan origin and the embracing of those days by the Catholic Church in their religious worship.

When reviewing the history of Mother’s Day, we must note the many countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany and Australia, which celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May (on May 11 in 2003); while on the other hand, England celebrates their Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday in Lent (on March 30 in 2003).

Pagans kept a “Mother’s Day” in ancient times for the purpose of honoring their goddesses. However, the mere fact that pagans did so would not preclude Christians from keeping Mother’s Day today, unless a clear connection can be shown between those pagan customs and our modern practices.

Perhaps unbeknownst to many, the Worldwide Church of God, under Herbert W. Armstrong, had for years cautioned against keeping “Mother’s Day” in Great Britain, as it was felt that such a clear connection between pagan worship and our “modern” customs had been established. We summarize for our readers the little-known history of the Church’s decision in this regard:

The Church had become aware of the history of the English “Mother’s Day,” when studying relevant sources. For instance, the Encyclopedia Britannica, edition 1959, points out:

“Mother’s Day, a festival derived from the custom of mother worship in ancient Greece. Formal mother worship, with ceremonies to Cybele, or Rhea, the great Mother of the Gods [sic], was performed in the Ides of March throughout Asia Minor. With the coming of Christianity this developed into worship of the ‘Mother church,’ the celebration occurring on mid-Lent Sunday, when children returned home with gifts for parents, especially the mother.”

Cheri Sicard writes in “The History of Mother’s Day”:

“The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece, honoring Rhea, the Mother of the Gods [Rhea is the mother of Zeus. She is also the sister of Cronus, who has been identified as the Baal of the Bible]. The Romans called their version of the event the Hilaria, and celebrated on the Ides of March by making offerings in the temple of Cybele, the mother of the gods. Early Christians celebrated the festival on the fourth… Sunday of Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ. In more recent times, relatively speaking – England in the 1600s – the celebration was expanded to include all mothers with ‘Mothering Sunday’ being celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent (the 40 day period leading up to Easter). Besides attending church services in honor of the Virgin Mary, children returned home from the cities with gifts, flowers, and special Mothering Day cakes that were important parts of the celebration.”

When “Mothering Sunday” was originally kept in England, people brought gifts to the church where they were baptized. They would then also bring gifts, such as cakes, to their mothers. The “Mothering Day” cakes were normally so-called “Simnel Cakes,” which, in early times, were marked with a figure of Christ or Mary, to show their religious significance (Book of Days, Vol. 1, p. 337).

Many sources point out that the pagan worship of mother goddesses in Greece and Rome was later adopted by Christianity, foremost in England, to incorporate such paganism and to give it a “Christian” mantle. Especially the worship of the Roman Mother goddess Cybele is interesting in this context. The Encyclopedia Britannica points out, under “Great Mother of the Gods”:

“Though her cult sometimes existed by itself, in its fully developed state the worship of the Great Mother was accompanied by that of Attis. The cult of Attis never existed independently… The main public event in the worship of the great Mother was the annual festival, which took place originally April 4.” The article continues to explain that a special day was set aside, “March 24, dies sanguinis, a day of mourning, fasting and abstinence, especially sexual, commemorating the sorrow of the mother for Attis [who had been killed].” Our booklet, “Don’t Keep Christmas,” explains the Attis cult in more detail. The above-mentioned article continues that the “importance” of the Cybele cult “in the history of religion is very great, for her cult, like the other mystic worships, at once formed a rival to Christianity and acted as a steppingstone to it.”

As already mentioned, the day became known in England as “Mothering Day” or as “Mid-Lent Sunday.” It was first applied to the worship of “Mother Mary,” and then also to the “Mother Church,” “the spiritual power that gave life and protected them from harm,” as one source puts it. Custom began to dictate that a person visit the church of his/her baptism on “Mothering Day.” People attended the “mother church” of their parish, laden with offerings. Gradually, the custom was applied to honoring our real mothers as well. However, the religious concept of the day was emphasized throughout.

In England, King Henry III (1216-1239) established officially the first “mothering Sunday,” in March, to remember the Church as the religious mother.

Based on the foregoing, the Worldwide Church of God had cautioned its members in England, not to celebrate “Mothering Day” or “Mother’s Day.”

A similar decision was not made, to our knowledge, in regard to other countries. When studying the history of Mother’s Day in continental Europe, we find that a “mothering day” was also kept there, in Mid-Lent. Later, Mother’s Day was officially celebrated in Germany in 1923 on the second Sunday in May, apparently due to Mother’s Day celebrations in the United States (that had been introduced in continental Europe through the Salvation Army) and the influence of German florists. In 1933, it was made an official holiday in Germany by the Nazi regime, in honor of the “Arian” mother.

In her article, “Between Ideology and Commerce,” Isabella Marboe points out that in Austria, “Mother’s Day” celebrations in May were connected with the tradition of the worship of “Mother Mary.” It was especially the Catholic Church, according to Monroe, that strongly supported the establishment of “Mother’s Day” in Austria. In 1926, Ignaz Seipel stated in his “Mother’s Day speech;” “It looks like something new, to introduce a special day to honor our mother. For the believing Catholic this is nothing new at all, as he has always celebrated days in worship of Mary as days to honor his mother.”

The Worldwide Church of God felt in the past that the same determination, which had been made in regard to Mother’s Day celebrations in England, could not be made in regard to Mother’s Day celebrations in the United States, as it was deemed to be a “secular holiday of comparatively recent origin,” and not “fundamentally religious in character in the United States” (Letter L069, dated May 1987).

The official version of the recent history of the establishment of Mother’s Day in the U.S. is fairly well known to many. It is taught that Miss Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) originated Mother’s Day, to honor her mother who had died on May 9, 1905. She started a campaign, which led to a resolution, passed by Congress on May 10, 1913, to make the second Sunday in May a national holiday, “dedicated to the memory of the best mother in the world — your mother.” In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation, designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

However, there is more to the story. In fact, Anna Jarvis was not the first, nor the only one, who had voiced the idea of establishing a Mother’s Day in the United States.

For instance, Julia Ward Howe had talked about a special “Mother’s Day” as early as 1858. She had kept it in a private special celebration in 1872. Howe is the author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She grieved for the many young lives that had been killed during the Civil War. She proposed to celebrate a “Mother’s Day of Peace.” In addition, she had made at least two extended trips to Europe between 1843 and 1850. During her last trip, she spent almost one year in Rome. In Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Declaration, it is stated, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, Disarm!’… Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.”

In addition, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, wife of a Methodist pastor and mother of Anna Jarvis, had likewise been affected by the Civil War. She proposed a special Mother’s Day celebration, which she called a “Mother’s Friendship Day,” to heal the wounds and the bridges between the “Blue” and the “Gray.”

Anna Jarvis continued to advocate the idea of a special Mother’s Day. On May 10, 1907, she held a special memorial service for her mother (who, as mentioned, had died in 1905). In 1910, West Virginia became the first state to recognize Mother’s Day. At the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1912, a delegate from a local church introduced a resolution recognizing Anna Jarvis as the founder of Mother’s Day. It was also suggested at that time that the second Sunday in May be observed as Mother’s Day.

The religious connection with and influence of the establishment of the American Mother’s Day cannot be denied. The modern U.S. Mother’s Day started in the Methodist-Episcopal Church, through the effort of Anne Jarvis. It had to be observed on a Sunday. Some had proposed any Sunday (for example, Frank H. Hering of Indiana, who is also called the “Father of Mother’s Day”), while others proposed the second Sunday in May. On the first official church memorial of Jarvis’ mother, on May 10, 1908, the church bells of the church which had been attended by her mother, and who had taught Sunday school there, rang 72 times – since Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis had been 72 years old when she died.

One year prior to this, her daughter had preached a sermon in the local church to honor her mother. She finished the sermon that the preacher had begun. “Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church” in Grafton, West Virginia, is therefore now recognized as the “mother church” of Mother’s Day in the United States.

In Calgary, Canada, George Kerby of the Central Methodist Church delivered a touching sermon on the very first Mother’s Day in that territory.

Sources also point out that the early way of keeping Mother’s Day in the United States was similar to the way with which it was kept during “Mothering Day” in England – including attending on that day the church of one’s baptism – and only gradually, “other sentiments were added.”

It might be worthwhile noting that Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life trying to undo what she had done. Enraged by the commercialization, Jarvis filed a lawsuit in 1923 to stop a Mother’s Day festival. She was later arrested for disturbing the peace when she learned that a War Mother’s Day Convention was selling white carnations – Jarvis’ symbol for mothers – to raise money. She spent most of her fortune that she had inherited from her mother to fight a holiday she had helped establish to honor her mother. She told a reporter that she regretted ever having started Mother’s Day.

In this lengthy section, we have tried to state the facts, as they have become available to us. We feel that the knowledge of these facts is necessary to make an individual, conscientious and personal decision, whether or not to observe – or to continue celebrating – Mother’s Day. In light of the facts presented herein, as well as additional facts that may come to our, or your, attention, you will have to decide whether the evidence is sufficient or not to establish a direct and immediate connection between pagan origins, Catholic Church influence, and our modern custom of celebrating Mother’s Day – especially in the United States, Canada and continental Europe. We must emphasize that, in any event, the personal decisions which each Christian must make in his or her life, must be made based on personal faith and conviction, knowing that whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

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