Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anna Jarvis Isn't Happy

Wait! Put down that box of candy. Forget about ordering those flowers. And whatever you do, don’t put that card in the mail! Anna Jarvis would not be happy.

What on earth am I talking about, and who the heck is Anna Jarvis?

For those of you who didn’t know Anna Jarvis is the woman who created our modern celebration of Mother’s Day. She also ended up hating what her creation had turned into, and spent the rest of her life trying to kill the “monster” she had created.

But let me back up a little bit.

She had intended Mother’s Day to be both a memorial to her own mother, who had died in 1905, and a day like many of the other observances that came out of the Sunday School movement of the time; things like Roll Call Day, Temperance Sunday, and Missionary Sunday, which have long been forgotten. As such, it was her intent that since it was on a Sunday, it would be a “holy day, not a holiday,” and a day on which people would write heartfelt letters to their mothers, telling how important they were to them.

However, within 10 years of Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 proclamation of the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, Jarvis was soured by what she considered to be the commercialization of her “holy day,” and actively campaigned against it. She had meant for it to be “a day of sentiment, not profit,” and was angered by the huge profits that the candy, flower, and greeting card industries were making off of her mother’s day.

She was incensed that it had become that most loathsome of all things…the dreaded “Hallmark Holiday,” a term which is horribly misused, because Hallmark didn’t create those holidays, they simply made a mint recognizing that many people would like cards to send out on them.

And that’s what pissed her off…the fact that people sent their mothers printed greeting cards rather than a heartfelt, handwritten letter. Or to quote her:
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
Now, I’m quite certain that if I wrote my mother the kind of letter that Anna Jarvis wanted me to, she’d be on the phone immediately, asking how many days I had left to live. I also know that if I wrote the kind of letter that Jarvis wanted us all to write, I’d have to double my insulin dosage for the day. My family is just not that overtly sentimental.

And that’s OK. For you see, the other thing that Anna Jarvis didn’t get is that for many families the candy, the flowers, and the dreaded greeting card, are symbols of what she wanted people to say outright. They are symbols of what is already understood within the families that use them, and that might even mean more than the handwritten note she insisted upon.

I can only imagine Anna Jarvis’s reaction to the grandmother of a friend of mine who would’ve seen the handwritten note as a sign that you were too lazy to go to the store and pick out a nice Hallmark card for her. She'd say "Write the note if you want…but make sure it’s in a proper card!"

Ironically, one of the reasons that Anna Jarvis didn’t get it was because she was never a mother herself. To her, Mother’s Day was always about her own mother, and was never something she got to experience from the other side, where she might have gained a different perspective.

She didn’t understand that once she’d let the genie out of the bottle, people would observe Mother’s Day any way they wanted to, whether it was the way she had in mind or not. And so she spent the rest of her life trying to stuff that all too independent genie back. She was so set on having Mother’s Day observed the way that she had intended, that she never paid attention to the joy millions of women got from the way that it actually was being observed.

And so if your mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, wife, whatever, enjoys the candy, the cards, and the flowers, I say run out and get them right now. Thank Anna for the idea, but then tell her that she's being a bit too much of a control freak.

For more information, you might want to check out these links: