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Philadelphia marks Mother's Day centenary

world Updated: May 11, 2008 12:34 IST
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The City of Brotherly Love will become the City of Motherly Love for a day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American Mother's Day on May 11.

Philadelphia is making the most of its connection with Anna Jarvis, the woman who started Mother's Day in 1908 in honour of her mother, Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis, who died in the city three years earlier.

The Jarvis women were originally from West Virginia but moved in 1896 to Philadelphia, where the younger Jarvis persuaded retail entrepreneur John Wanamaker to hold the first Mother's Day celebration in the famous Wanamaker Building in central Philadelphia.

Since then the day has grown into a major holiday. Americans spent some $15.7 billion on flowers, chocolates, cards and restaurant meals for their mothers on Mother's Day last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

A splurge of spending is at odds with Jarvis's original vision of the day, according to Meryl Levitz, chief executive of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp.

"Ironically, she was not interested in a commercial celebration at all," Levitz explained. "She was interested in the warmth and intimacy, the circle of friends, the mothers and daughters aspect."

But Levitz said what John Wanamaker had in mind was another question and without his help she probably would never have achieved her goal of having mothers noted and celebrated nationally.

82 million mothers

The first official Mother's Day was held on May 10, 1908 with ceremonies in Philadelphia and in the Jarvis's home town of Grafton, West Virginia.

On May 10, Philadelphia is marking the 100th anniversary of the holiday with a ceremony that includes playing the 28,541-pipe Wanamaker Organ, a special cake and a tribute by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to America's estimated 82 million mothers.

In addition to his part in the initial holiday, Wanamaker was also influential in getting Congress to officially recognize Mother's Day. A joint Congressional resolution on the occasion was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Jarvis, who never became a mother herself, died in 1948 and is buried next to her mother in the West Laurel Hill Cemetery on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

Mother's Day is marked at different times in other parts of the world. In Britain and Ireland, it's known as Mothering Sunday, celebrated three weeks before Easter Sunday, and is believed to have originated in the 16th century from the annual practice of visiting one's "mother church" annually.

While American Mother's Day takes place on the second Sunday in May, other national celebrations take place any time between mid-February (Norway) and December 22 (Indonesia).