Has Commercialism Cannibalized Our Holiday’s?
By: Jodi Cross
May and June represent the months that we honor our fathers and mothers for all the hard work they have done for us. For my parents now in their 80’s, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is about time spent with them, not the gifts and dust collecting tchotchke we purchase. Is commercialism being taken too far? Even the original founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, thought so and tried to have it removed from the calendar.
We celebrated Mother’s Day first some 58 years before Father’s Day. In 1908, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. The inspiration was her very own mother whom she overheard praying for peace and reconciliation along with a special memorial day to honor all mothers. Upon her mother’s death in May of 1905, Anna started a campaign to honor mothers. After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner named John Wanamaker, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in West Virginia. That same day also saw thousands of people attend a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia. This began the tradition of commercializing Mother’s Day.
Finally her persistence paid off and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. During his declaration, President Wilson described mothers as “a tender gentle army.” Anna’s vision of the day involved wearing a white carnation as a badge for mothers who were deceased and presenting pink or red carnations to mothers who were still living. The day was meant for visiting one’s mother, writing a kind and loving letter and attending church services. But once Mother’s Day became a national holiday, it was not long before florists, card companies and other merchants capitalized on its popularity. By 1920, Jarvis grew disgusted with how the holiday had been commercialized. By the time of her death in 1948 Jarvis had tragically disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see it removed from the American calendar.
A few years after the Mother’s Day movement started there were some grumblings about a holiday to honor fathers. On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers. A one-time service was organized to honor 362 men who had died from an explosion at coal mine. Two years later in 1910, the governor of the state of Washington proclaimed the nation’s first Father’s Day.
The campaign to celebrate our nation’s fathers did not meet with much enthusiasm and dragged on for years without support. Men continued to scoff at the holiday referring to the day as a “commercial gimmick to sell more products often paid for by the father himself.” Finally 1972, Father’s Day was proclaimed a nationwide holiday by none other than President Richard Nixon.
The founder’s vision was not to commercialize the day, it was meant to spend time with your families and communicate loving messages of appreciation. As for my own parents, they barely recall any of the long gone neckties or miscellaneous gifts we gave them over the years, but they certainly do remember the time we spent with them and the memories we made together.