Thanksgiving décor for my mother was a white tablecloth and fine crystal. But as a child, I longed for more. So the moment I had my own household, I added the cornucopia. The sight of all those colorful fruits spilling from a basket filled my spirit with holiday joy. In my mind, the horn-shaped vessel embodied the very essence of the harvest season.
That being said, I later discovered that the origins of the cornucopia had nothing to do with a basket, nor was it meant to contain fruit. It all started with a goat named Amalthea. Continue reading →
For those of you who think Mother’s Day was created by Hallmark, the real story is much more poignant. It all sprang from a daughter’s love for her mother, the trials of war and a gift of 500 white carnations.
IT ALL BEGAN IN WEST VIRGINIA
It all began in 1905 when Anna Jarvis lost her mother. She and her mother had been very close during Anna’s lifetime. Consumed by grief, Anna made a solemn vow. She pledged to establish a national day to honor her mother and all mothers for the positive contributions they made to society.
Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, had raised her family in the mid 1800’s and had suffered great hardship. Of the 12 children she gave birth to, only four survived. The others died from diseases common at the time, including measles, typhoid and diphtheria.
MOTHERS HELPING MOTHERS
But despite having suffered so much loss, Anna’s mother was stout-hearted. In the 1850s, she began organizing coalitions of mothers from across West Virginia to combat childhood illness. The women raised money for medicines, inspected food and milk and provided nursing care for those who were sick.
The coalitions became known as the Mothers Day Work Clubs.
Ann Reeves Jarvis
And when the Civil War broke out in 1861, the mothers acted as volunteer nurses, caring for soldiers of both the Confederate and Union armies.
Mother’s Day Work Club members took care of all soldiers
Even after the war, the clubs continued to be a unifying force. In 1868, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day, which brought together mothers of former foes and encouraged reconciliation among area families.
ANNA JARVIS AND 500 WHITE CARNATIONS
Shortly after Ann’s death, her daughter Anna organized a memorial at her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia. During the service, she passed out 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) to all the mothers in attendance. With this unofficial inauguration, Anna began writing letters to national, state and local politicians to gain their support for a Mother’s Day movement.
And unbelievably, in just a little over a decade later, 46 states and many foreign countries, including Canada and Mexico, were holding Mother’s Day celebrations. Then in 1912, Anna began campaigning for international recognition of the day.
Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made things official. He signed Proclamation 1268, which created a national Mother’s Day as A public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.
Letter signed by President Woodrow Wilson establishing Mother’s Day
The second Sunday in May became the official day of celebration. And the wearing of a white carnation, Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower, became a tradition.
THE CONTROVERSY OVER MOTHER’S DAY CARDS
Anna Jarvis’ originally intended for Mother’s Day to be a personal celebration between mothers and their families (this is why Mother’s takes the singular possessive and not the plural). She imagined it as a time when millions would visit their mothers and write personal, hand written notes expressing their love and affection.
Vintage Mother’s Day card
With the official recognition of the holiday, however, florists, card companies and other merchants began jumping on the bandwagon. Jarvis became more and more enraged as she watched Mother’s Day drift further and further away from her original idea. And nothing upset her more than the growth in popularity of the printed Mother’s Day card. She wrote,
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.
By 1920, Jarvis had become so upset over the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she launched a campaign to abolish the holiday. Declaring Mother’s Day a failure, she organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to stop others from profiting off of the day.
In 1923, she even filed suit against the Governor of New York over a Mother’s Day celebration. When the court rejected her plea, she formed a protest and was arrested for disturbing the peace. She devoted the remainder of her life to fighting against the very day she had established.
Jarvis died, childless, in 1948 at the age of 84. She is buried next to her mother in Philadelphia.
THE ROLE OF CARNATIONS
Yet a century later, Jarvis’ legacy lives on in our annual Mother’s Day celebration. And there’s no doubt that carnations have become the official Mother’s Day flower. In her day the carnations were white, but since then pink and red colors have also become popular.
In fact, today it is generally believed that pink carnations represent gratitude while red ones signify admiration. And white carnations are now reserved for honoring a mother who is no longer living.
Red carnations signify admiration
Despite Jarvis’ later efforts, every U.S. president since 1914 has issued an official Presidential Mother’s Day Proclamation recognizing and honoring America’s mothers. And today, the custom is celebrated all over the world (albeit on different days.)
On a personal note, I like receiving printed cards and flowers on Mother’s Day, but have to agree with Jarvis that nothing beats a hand-written note from your child. I’m lucky enough to receive such letters each and every year.
For centuries, people have hung mistletoe as a symbol of love and romance. But regrettably, the plant doesn’t share the same feelings. Why? Because mistletoe contains a Christmas cocktail of toxins that when ingested can harm humans and pets. I advise keeping it out of reach if you’re planning on hanging it this season.Continue reading →
Every year is different when it comes to Christmas. But in my home, there is one thing that remains constant. When I shop for a tree, I always head straight for the Fraser firs. These are the trees I grew up with, and their fragrance reminds me of my childhood. And as we all know, memory is a key component in any holiday décor. Continue reading →
OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the tropical tree above. But in December, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is brimming with Christmas tree ideas. And the displays are nothing short of spectacular. Continue reading →
In the United States, December 12 marks National Poinsettia Day, a time to honor a plant that has become symbolic of the holiday season. And while not everyone’s a fan, it’s hard not to marvel at the species’ growing popularity. Continue reading →
If you’re like me, when those big boxes of gourds appear at the store in October, your mind whirls with possibilities. The cute little shapes seem to embody the spirit of fall. The problem is that, once you get them home, the gourds seem somehow lacking. Sure, you can just toss them in a bowl. But, if you want to get creative, decorating with gourds requires some added ingredients. Continue reading →
This winter, I’ve been passing the time rereading a few French classics. It’s been a great way to while away the hours, especially since many of the books focus on life in the garden. Such is the case with Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Lys dans la Vallée (The Lily of the Valley). It’s a great story of French love and society and how a pair of frustrated lovers establish a secret correspondence by flowers. Continue reading →
The Orchid Tree at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens
OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the orchid tree above, but this time of year Longwood Gardens is teeming with ideas, especially when it comes to Christmas trees. Located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (an easy two-hour drive from Washington, DC), Longwood is resplendent this December as it pays homage to France. And the eye-popping horticultural displays are nothing short of ooh-la-la. Continue reading →