by Ian Makay
Welcome to the month of May! Many a month merits mention for its mirthful and more meditative memorials, but May is a veritable merry-go-round of merrymaking-a mellifluous melange of commemorations marked, more than most mayhaps, by a megadose of the letter "M". Medieval to modern, from May Day to Memorial Day; from Cinco de Mayo to Flores de Mayo, May's many milestones mirror the myriad motivations man- and womankind has manufactured over the millennia as a means for mischief and merriment. Midway among these, the most momentous May day in the United States is Mother's Day.
Emblazoned on many a masculine muscle, a modest monosyllabic monument provides testimony scrawled across a crimson heart-Mom! The second Sunday in May has memorialized motherhood since 1908 and may be the most massive secular holiday on the American calendar, barring some civic mileposts. Yet a mere glimpse at its roots reveals a muddled history, enmeshed in militating moral and mercantile interests.
When Anna Jarvis left her small Grafton, West Virginia home and her mother in 1891, she was unaware the impact her simple idea would make. Forsaking ambitions to attend college; haunted by the early childhood deaths of seven of her eleven children; and suffering herself from a long illness before dying, Anna's mother seemed to epitomize the sacrifice and courage of motherhood.
Devastated by the ultimate demise of the elder Jarvis in 1905, Anna spent much of the following year rummaging through her mother's correspondence and reflecting on the messages of Methodist faith and maternal martyrdom imparted by her mother. Motivated by this, Anna set out to create an international movement as a memorial to her mother and, through her exemplary life, all mothers.
Marshalling her contacts as a Methodist Sunday school teacher, Anna brought the dream to life as Mother's Day made its mark on the second Sunday in May 1908 with celebrations in churches throughout the country. Many celebrants made their mothers mementos of white carnations, the flower mother Jarvis loved most. America's floral makers, masking their pecuniary motives with an apparently altruistic offer to help Anna, promoted the Mother's Day Movement, managing to have it declared a national holiday in 1914.
Drawing upon Anna's memories of her mother, florists groups across the country tirelessly employed advertising and newspaper accounts to manipulate public emotions, popularizing Mother's Day and at the same time turning it into their most profitable annual sales opportunity. By 1920 the event had metamorphosed from a sentimental commemoration of mom to a mawkish meal ticket for the burgeoning floral and greeting card industries.
Anna Jarvis realized how she had been duped and tried to turn public opinion against what she described as "the mire of commercialism". The various monied interests, in turn, discredited and then ignored her efforts so successfully that, by 1926 accounts, not even meager mention was any longer made of the mother remembered that first Mother's Day.
Ironically, and maybe as a result of witnessing the manhandling mothers received at the hands of society, Anna Jarvis never married nor became a mother herself. As a further footnote, the history of Mother's Day plays a prominent role in the annals of American commerce. It is considered the model for the creation of commercially profitable holidays, which in the United States and much of the western world have displaced traditional religious and civic celebrations.
Mercantile mayhem and maternal interests aside, May is the most momentous of all months for mavens de ovum (fans of the electronic Gourmet Guide) because May is National Egg Month! Meshed throughout May's monthly milestones featured in the weekday editions of "Every Day's a Holiday" mind the numerous recipes this month made with eGGs not to mention the multitude of minutia de ovum (trivia questions about eGGs). Methinks my point will be made manifold-
May that microcosm of human manners, the month of May, make you mindful of the multitudinous means and modes making merry may be manifested and may you march through the month's menu of merriment more amused than bemused!
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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