Georgian Mothers Day

March 3

Today is Mother’s Day in Georgia — the country, not the state.

Perhaps the most famous of all Georgian mothers was Katerina Geladze Djugashvili.

Katerina Geladze
Katerina Geladze

The daughter of serfs, Katerina married at age 17. She had two children—Mikhail and Georgi—who died as babies, before her third, Josef (nickname Soso), was born. A devout Christian, Katerina made a vow to God. If this boy would survive, he would become a servant of the Lord.

Soso did live, but was often ill. Katerina nursed him to health through small pox, endless colds and coughs, and a case of blood poisoning that left one of his arms permanently injured.

Soso’s father was a drunk who habitually abused his wife and son. He walked out on them to work at a shoe factory in the city, where he eventually drank himself to death.<

young stalin
Young Soso

Katerina worked as a laundress and servant to raise money for her son to attend the Gori Parochial School. Though other boys picked on him for his ragged clothes, pockmarked face and hick accent, the boy graduated at the top of his class, and was accepted to the prestigious Tiflis Theological Seminary.

To the Most Reverend Archemandrite Seraphim, Rector and Father,” wrote the boy…

Having completed my studies at the Gori Church School as the best student… I was fortunate to be successful in this examination and was admitted among the students of the Theological Seminary. However, since my parents are unable to provide for me in Tiflis I am appealing with great humility to Your Reverence to admit me among those students who have half their tuition fees paid for them.

Soso sang in the school choir, read voraciously, and began writing poetry:

“To the Moon”

Move on, O tireless one–
Never bowing your head,
Scatter the misty clouds,
Great is the providence of the Almighty
Smile tenderly upon the earth
Which lies outspread beneath you…

And know that he who fell like ashes to the earth,
Who long ago became enslaved,
Will rise again higher than the holy mountain…

O beauty, you shone among the heavens
So now let your rays play in splendor
In the blue sky
I shall rip open my shirt
And bare my breast to the moon,
And with outstretched hands
Worship her who showers her light on the world.

Young Soso

It was Soso’s appetite for reading that got him expelled just before graduation. He was caught with banned literature, including works by Darwin and Victor Hugo. His mother’s dreams were dashed to pieces.

Decades later, after Josef changed his last name to Stalin (much easier to pronounce than Djugashvili) and became the leader of the Soviet Union, he tried to explain to his mother what he did for a living—leaving out all that paranoid, mass-murdering, genocidal dictator stuff.

Unencumbered by pesky checks and balances like U.S. Presidents, Stalin was the single most powerful person in the world.

Katerina simply told him, like any good mother, she was disappointed he wasn’t a priest.

Mother’s Day

Second Sunday in May

Mother of Hermes! and still youthful Maia!
May I sing to thee
As thou wast hymned on the shore of Baiae?

When the 22 year-old Keats wrote the beginning of his “Ode to Maia,” he had been an orphan for eight years. He was traveling to the seaside town of Teignmouth for the spring, to take care of his brother Tom, who was dying of tuberculosis—the same illness that took their mother and would later take Keats himself.

The first several lines of Keats’ ode were recorded in a letter to a friend: “I wrote them on May-day and intend to finish the ode all in good time.

The ‘good time’ never came. Keats died three years later. The poem was never written.

In Keats’ day it was well-known that May was named for the Greek and Roman goddess of spring, the eldest sister of the seven Pleiades and the mother to Hermes/Mercury by father Zeus/Jupiter. She was also trusted by the philandering Zeus to be his son Arcas’s wet-nurse when his jealous wife Hera turned Arcas’s biological mother into a bear.

Hermes & Maia

Some say our own tradition for dedicating a day to mothers comes out of Maia’s Roman feast. Her day was on the 15th, the Ides (full moon) of the month. Her name not only meant mother, but also “increasing”, referring to the abundance of flora and fauna in spring. (Likewise, the Angles and Saxons called the month “Tri-milchi”, because they could start milking their cows three times a day due to the plentiful grass.)

In other parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, Mother’s Day is celebrated closer to the vernal equinox, while in the U.K., “Mothering Sunday” is celebrated on the Sunday three weeks before Easter, usually in March. Beginning in the 1600s, employers would traditionally give servants the fourth Sunday of Lent off allowing them to attend services at their “mother church”. Mothering Sunday became synonymous for family reunions.

Mother’s Day in America

Mother’s Day in the United States is largely the work of two women.  Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis.

Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe was the abolitionist famous for turning the lackluster lyrics of “John Brown’s Body” into the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” After the Civil War Howe changed her tune–or lyrics actually–to focus on on the women’s suffrage movement and the creation of a “Mothers’ Day for Peace” (note the apostrophe). During the Franco-Prussian War she spoke in London and Paris, and brought the idea of a Mothers’ Day for Peace back home to Boston. The holiday, which she envisioned would be celebrated in June, didn’t get much further than New England, but her Mothers’ Day Proclamation of 1870 stirred women across the country:

“Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

“…Blood does not wipe our dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”

Her vision of Mothers’ Day was one of maternal cohesion, women coming together to work for social justice.

But Mother’s Day as we know it—a day on which children celebrate and honor their own mothers—bears more in common with the vision of a West Virginian by the name of Anna Jarvis…

continued: Anna Jarvis — Mother’s Day in America

Mother’s Day in America – Anna Jarvis

continued from Mother’s Day

Ann Jarvis (left) & daughter Anna
Ann Jarvis (left) and daughter Anna

Before Julia Ward Howe began her Mothers’ Day for Peace campaign, another mother, Mrs. Ann Jarvis, had established a network of “Mothers’ Day Friendship Clubs” to improve sanitation conditions throughout West Virginia. She taught other mothers how to disinfect wounds, sterilize bottles, and prevent food from spoiling.

When the Civil War broke out, Jarvis and her clubs refused to take sides. Instead they tended to the wounded of both sides. After the war, having seen the carnage inflicted by and upon Union and Confederate troops, she pushed for the observance of a “Mothers’ Day”. Like Howe, Ann Jarvis’s Mothers’ Day stressed peace and social activism.

It was her daughter however–Anna Jarvis–who created Mother’s Day as we know it.

In 1907 Anna arranged a memorial service for her mother, the previously mentioned Ann Jarvis, who had passed away on May 9, 1905. Determined to help others appreciate their mothers when they were alive, Anna Jarvis held the first official Mother’s Day the following year, on the second Sunday of May, 1908.

Over 100 years ago this weekend, 407 children and their mothers participated at the first Mother’s Day service at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia.

Andrew Methodist Episcopal Church, Grafton, WV

Anna had a very specific idea of Mother’s Day. It was to be celebrated on Sunday rather than a specific date because it was a ‘holy day’, not a ‘holiday’. (Also, her mother taught Sunday school for 25 years.)

She even specified where the apostrophe was to fall: it was Mother’s Day, not Mothers’ Day. It would be a personal celebration in honor of one’s own mother, rather than for all mothers in general.

This version of Mother’s Day spread quickly–spurred on by the letters of Anna and her friends promoting the holiday. In 1910 West Viriginia became the first state to declare the holiday. Just four years later the resolution passed in both houses of Congress, and Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

But by the 1920s the new holiday met with opposition from an unexpected source:

Anna Jarvis herself.

Anna had no idea the commercial epidemic she would unleash upon the American public. Appalled by the materialistic takeover of what was to her a very personal day, she spent much of the rest of her life denouncing the exploitation of the day she had helped to create. 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.

Perhaps the irony is that the younger Jarvis succeeded where the elder Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe had not precisely because her incarnation of Mother’s Day was commercially exploitable. Americans could purchase gifts for their own mothers, as opposed to the concepts of Howe and the elder Jarvis, who envisioned a day of unity for social change.

Today Mother’s Day is a $15 billion dollar industry. More flowers are sold for Mother’s Day than even Valentine’s Day. More cards are sent than for any other holiday but Christmas. And more people will eat out this evening than any other day of the year.

Whereas previous activists like Howe and Jarvis Sr. looked at Mothers’ Day from the point of view of a parent—as a day for mothers to unite against war and injustice to make the world safer for their children—the younger Jarvis never saw it that way. To Anna this day would always be a gift to her mother.

Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day, had no children.

[Speaking of commercialism, you probably couldn’t spot Maia and her sisters in the sky, but the Pleiades constellation looks like this:

You might recognize it better as this:


Subaru is the Japanese name for the constellation. The auto manufacturer’s logo shows the six stars normally visible to the naked eye.]