Every second Sunday in May, U.S. citizens celebrate Mother's Day. In my family, this usually involved buying Mom a corsage and trying not to wiggle too much when we sat beside her in the church pew. Living in a very small town, we didn't have a lot of options for Sunday brunch - OK, there weren't any such options. But one of the rules of Mother's Day was that Mother was not to cook on that day.
So my sisters and I cooked the Sunday meal, running back and forth to Mother - ensconced on the sofa, trying to look queenly - for a quick consultation about when, exactly, to add the milk for the gravy and whether we had to put raisins in for the dish to be considered carrot salad.
We had no idea then - indeed I imagine few Americans know even to this day - that Mother's Day was born, not from the fevered imagination of some greeting card marketing director, but from the passionate social activism of a handful of women determined not to keep losing sons to the carnage of war.
In the late 1850s, Ann Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker, attempted to improve sanitation through what she called Mothers' Work Days. She organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides, and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.
When she died in 1907, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, started the crusade to found a memorial day for women. The first Mother's Day was celebrated in Grafton, W.Va., on May 10, 1908, in the church where Ann Jarvis had taught Sunday school. The custom caught on, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day, in honor of mothers whose sons had died in war.
From the Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For Department, Anna Jarvis eventually became one of the most vociferous opponents to Mother's Day, disgusted by the commercialization of the holiday. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mother's Day is now the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant.
We might save some wear and tear on the pocketbook and on our own bottoms' line if we returned to an even earlier Mother's Day tradition: honoring mothers as the front line in the fight for a healthy, peaceful world.
For the love of our children and their children, we want a world that works for all. I'd rather have even an infinitesimal baby step toward that than a million more corsages and dinners I don't have to cook.
And also, of course, a little bit of chocolate.
Editor in Chief