What is the history of Mother’s Day? Find out how the Greeks and Romans celebrated motherhood

Mother’s Day, a staple holiday in the United States, has a rich history that dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The holiday is one of the biggest consumer spending days of the year and honors all those involved in motherhood. 

Read below to find out how Mother’s Day was created in the U.S. and in ancient times. 

Who created Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day originated in the United States during the early 20th century and was created by peace activist Anna Jarvis in honor of her deceased mother. 


In 1907, Jarvis hosted the first Mother’s Day at Andrew Methodist Episcopal Church as a service dedicated to the memory of her mother, who had died two years prior.

Initially, Jarvis campaigned to make Mother’s Day an official holiday because her own mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, had always dreamed of a holiday dedicated to honoring all those involved in motherhood.

Mother’s Day in the United States was created by peace activist Anna Jarvis during the early 20th century after the death of her mother. (Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Jarvis and her supporters lobbied elected officials to green light Mother’s Day as an official holiday. In 1908 the U.S. Congress rejected the proposal, but that did not discourage activists from continuing to advocate. 

Three years later, the popularity of Mother’s Day had grown exponentially, and in 1911 all U.S. states observed the holiday. By 1914, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint resolution that designated Mother’s Day as an official holiday nationwide on the second Sunday of May.

A decade later, the holiday became a staple of American society and became known as a Hallmark holiday because Hallmark Cards had begun selling greeting cards specifically designed for Mother’s Day. Those greeting cards eventually became a multimillion-dollar industry that exists to this day. 

Despite spending years of her life advocating for the holiday, Jarvis became disillusioned with the commercialization of holiday and the final years of her life were spent advocating for the end of Mother’s Day.

Is Mother’s Day a pagan holiday?

The pagan origins of Mother’s Day dates back to the ancient Greeks during their yearly spring festival that paid tribute to maternal goddesses. 

In Greek mythology, a key figure was Rhea, wife of Cronus, who was the mother of various gods and goddesses. In addition, the Romans honored Cybele, another female goddess, during their spring festival called Hilaria. 

Woman prays with a rosary in a church

Early Christians in England honored motherhood by celebrating the life of the Virgin Mary during the fourth Sunday of Lent. (Getty Images)

The celebrations took place nearly 250 years before Jesus Christ was born and occurred during the Ides of March, when ancient Romans would offer tribute to the goddess, play games and partake in different parades.


Moreover, early Christians took place in England during a festival called Mothering Sunday. Followers of Christ would honor the Virgin Mary during the fourth Sunday of Lent. 

How do people celebrate Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day is celebrated by countries all over the world; however, in the United States, it is one of the most popular consumer spending holidays of the year. 

Hallmark gift cards often feature Mother’s Day-themed products and restaurants often stay open on Sunday to attract visitors looking to take their mothers or grandmothers out to brunch or lunch. 

Mother's Day flowers on a table

Typical Mother’s Day traditions in the United States include giving mothers or grandmothers greeting cards, gifts and meals. (iStock)

Traditionally, people also celebrate Mother’s Day in the U.S. by giving their mother’s sentimental gifts or flowers or spending time with their families by hosting cookouts in their backyard or at the park. 


The day precedes Father’s Day, which takes place in the U.S. the following month in June every year. 

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