The Mother of All Days
Thursday, May 10, 2012 • 9:43am
The second Sunday in May is upon us. Mother’s Day. The day we honor everything mom. The day my kids and I recognize their mother, my wife, with flowers and homemade cards to reaffirm how much we love and appreciate her.
This is in sharp contrast to Father’s Day, a day in which my family reaffirms how much they love me by watching me mow the lawn.
As national holidays go, I happen to enjoy Mother’s Day. The azaleas that adorn the trim houses and green lawns where I live are awash in color. The full spring sun is warm and embraces my face. There is a twitter of promise in the carefree chirps of bird moms nesting in the blossoming trees. It is a day of beauty and peace and family harmony.
It is also a good excuse to have a Bloody Mary. Mother’s Day, after all, is the reason brunch was invented.
It turns out the ritual celebration of mothers can be traced back to ancient civilizations, to a time when female deities gave birth to omnipotent gods. Obviously well before I was born.
Perhaps the earliest organized deference to mothers can be found in the yearly festivals held to celebrate the Egyptian goddess Isis, the Mother of the Pharaohs. Isis herself was the only daughter of two, well-to-do gods from the earth and the sky.
Sadly, it was a dysfunctional family. After a turbulent childhood, Isis married her brother Osiris, enraging her other brother Seth who killed Osiris twice, first by planting his body in a tree and then by dismembering him and spreading his body parts throughout Egypt.
Isis ultimately retrieved Osiris’s body parts, and somehow impregnated herself with his remains, ultimately giving birth to a baby boy she inexplicably named Horus.
Horus would later kill his uncle Seth and unify Egypt as King of the Pharaohs against the expressed wishes of Isis who wanted him to become a doctor and marry a nice girl from Mesopotamia.
Nevertheless, the ancient Egyptians revered Isis and they adorned her image with wings and a funny hat with horns and celebrated her matronly magic each year with wild drunken orgies involving dancing, animal sacrifices, and pan flutes.
Obviously, Mother’s Day celebrations had to lay low for a while. So the concept of celebrating a mother goddess was not picked up again until centuries later in the kingdom of Phrygia (modern day Idaho) where the citizens celebrated their deity Cybele, the golden mother of King Midas, among other gods.
A lot has been written about the myth of Cybele, clearly none of which I have read, but I do think it is ironic that Cybele was worshipped as a goddess of fertility given that she was Phrygid. Nevertheless, the people of Phrygia celebrated Cybele with wild drunken orgies involving dancing, animal sacrifice, and pan flutes.
I guess the Greeks were of like mind, because centuries later they tried to improve the reputation of Mother’s Day by changing Cybele’s name to Rhea and further impregnating her legend as the great Magna Mater (Greek for the mother of all toga parties). Rhea soon gave birth to Hades and Zeus and wild drunken orgies involving dancing, human sacrifice, and pan flutes ensued.
Thankfully, the modern celebration of mothers took a decidedly more puritanical turn when Julia Ward Howe published a Mother’s Day Proclamation to protest the needless killing of sons in the Civil War. She organized a national day of peace, which was celebrated by mothers all across the country while their repentant husbands retreated to the bar to condemn animal sacrifice while playing pan flutes and dancing in drunken revelry.
But the familiar celebration of the day, as we know it, can be attributed to Anna Jarvis, who campaigned her church tirelessly for a day to honor peace in the name of mothers everywhere. With her wish granted, Ana bestowed her congregation with flowers in honor of her own mother. As popularity of the event spread, Ana petitioned business leaders and government officials to recognize a day devoted to mothers. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday of May to be a national holiday.
Six years later the 14th amendment was ratified prohibiting liquor and pan flutes in the United States.
So, as much as I would love to celebrate my modern day wife and mother in drunken revelry, I think a quiet, thoughtful familial gathering of respect is much more appropriate. For despite the sacred and symbolic importance of women to all of mankind, the goddess moms in our lives still deserve cards and flowers and simple, heart felt gestures to remind them how much we love them.
And champagne. Lots of champagne.