One of the most commercialized holidays of the year in the United States, second only to Christmas, is Mother’s Day. We need to return to its original focus – that of promoting world peace. My mother does not want flowers, cards, phone calls, elegant dinners, or any of the other usual trappings of modern Mother’s Day. Not that any of these are objectionable, but what means the most to her is knowing that her life’s work of raising me and my siblings has contributed to the increase of peace in the world. Every day in our family is a celebration of Mother’s Day: Without Mom, none of us would have been born, none of us would have been raised to be persons of heart, persons of peace. For years Mom was an active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I have a happy childhood memory of helping her paint large sheets of pegboard for a WILPF display booth at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. We don’t just owe our lives to Mom; we owe her our view of the world as one great big family, where each of us has global responsibilities to work for peace and justice.
An early commemoration of Mother’s Day grew out of the pain and heartbreak of the Civil War. Mothers on both sides of this American conflict had lost sons—sons that they had carried for nine months, given birth to in pain, raised with great care and love, only to have them slaughtered on the battlefields. Julia Ward Howe, writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” became so distressed by the bloody battles of the Civil War that she called on mothers to band together to protest the senselessness of their sons killing each other. Her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” of 1870 called for an international Mother’s Day promoting peace and motherhood:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts…
Let them then solemnly take counsel
With each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed…
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions.
The great and general interests of peace.
After decades of campaigning by many devoted mothers, Mother’s Day was officially signed into national observance in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson, who declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Mothers are honored in many countries around the globe. Mothers are mothers the world over, regardless of location, culture, or religion. Mothers are nurturers and peace makers by definition. This Mother’s Day, honor your mother by contributing to the “great and general interests of peace” both at home and abroad. That is the best gift you can give.