Around this time of year we celebrate two notable dates, if ‘celebrate’ is the right word. Recently we enjoyed the rampant commercialism of Valentine’s Day and it isn’t too long now for many of us until we reach Mother’s Day. I want to make a small plea for respite!
St Valentine’s Day has long been a Christian celebration to commemorate two Saints of that name, both of whom lived and died in the 3rd century. Several martyrdom stories have since been added to the roll of honour for this date, including a popular account of Saint Valentine of Rome: his story is that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. During his imprisonment, Saint Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer and, before his execution, he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell. The main association of 14th February with matters of the heart is attributed to Chaucer, the English 14th century poet, so we have him to blame for what we now know just as Valentine’s Day, although I think it would be a little unfair to attribute to him the mass commercialisation of the event which began in the 20th century – he wasn’t Nostradamus, after all, was he?
Mother’s Day also has longstanding religious tradition and history behind it, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing that nowadays. These traditions vary, depending on the religion. Here in the UK the day is actually recognised in the church calendar as Mothering Sunday, and falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Because Easter is early this year, this means that for the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Irish Republic and Nigeria, who use this date, Mother’s Day is this coming Sunday, 6th March. There are in fact 30 different dates around the world on which Mother’s Day is celebrated, the largest of which is the second Sunday in May, which is used in North and South America, and across large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The modern version was first celebrated in the USA in 1908, after a campaign by a lady called Anna Jarvis to have a designated day for mothers. Commercialisation began in the 1920s, when Hallmark began selling cards, and Jarvis was arrested for a public protest against this. But the date and nature of the celebration have since been widely adopted.
The commercialisation of both dates means that they are ubiquitous. Apart from all of the advertising which uses these days as the basis for promotion – often in incredibly dubious and convoluted ways – there are TV programmes, articles in papers and magazines etc, which are very difficult to avoid unless you become a hermit. And in this modern technological age, I’d also need to stop checking my emails too. Some of the bombardment is unbelievable: I even had an email the other day from a clothing company which only sells men’s clothing, inviting me to purchase one of a choice of outfits to wear when celebrating with my mother, from the formal suit to go to the posh lunch to smart casual if cooking her a meal at home, complete with an apron!
For me, there is a big problem with these two dates. Since I divorced 8 years ago I’ve not had another relationship, so Valentine’s Day is meaningless for me. And it is also nearly 8 years since my mother died. Not having a Valentine is a choice. Not having a mother isn’t.
Apart from my obvious physical repugnance, the reason that I am single is that I’m happy this way. If I wanted to start another relationship no doubt I could, either by more traditional ways of meeting people or via online dating. But I don’t want to do this, yet – if ever. So Valentine’s Day goes by with me enjoying some schadenfreude at all of those who feel pressured into doing something about it. Good luck to them, I genuinely hope that they all had a wonderful day. My problem is with Mother’s Day. Eight years on, the feelings of loss are somewhat diminished, but they are still there. Many millions have lost their mother, and could do without the commercial juggernaut reminding us of what we have lost and what we could have otherwise been doing.
It’s a difficult time of year. I find myself wishing that all of the companies stuffing this down my throat would roll up their promotional material very tightly and insert it where the sun doesn’t shine. And I’d bet I’m not alone in that. I shall be spending this Sunday in quiet reflection, remembering the person who brought me into this world and all that she did for me. I don’t need any marketing to tell me how to do that. So please, guys, show a little consideration and respect. I find myself agreeing with Anna Jarvis: this should be a day to celebrate our mothers, not to spend loads of money. Whilst the cards, flowers, chocolates and wine – especially the wine! – may be very welcome, do mothers really need this to know that they are appreciated? Wouldn’t telling them, face to face, be much better? And doing things for them, to show them that you care? Not just on Mother’s Day either:
a Mum is for life, not just Mother’s Day.