Mothers’ Day Celebration has Business not Emotion in its Origin

On Sunday May 12th, the world celebrated the International Mother’s Day. And India’s young population crazily joined the celebration too.

India’s initial idea of Mother’s Day

India’s idea of celebrating Mother’s Day dates back to 1981 when internet wasn’t even heard of in the country. Some social organizations celebrated the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s birthday as Mother’s Day & National Integration Day. These organizations mentioned of Sanjay Gandhi’s death in the previous year and depicted Indira Gandhi as a tragic mother. Ms Gandhi is known to have appealed these people not to felicitate her on that day.

In 1970, Kasturba Gandhi’s death anniversary was being remembered as Mother’s Day. Kasturba Gandhi was the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – the Father of the Nation – and hence she must have been bestowed with the ‘Mother’ title. The day was known to be observed every year till 1996 at the Aga Khan palace in Pune where she passed away.

Around 1914, some Hindu social groups linked Mother’s Day to Gauri Puja, which is celebrated around the end of August.

Why Mother’s Day grew popular?

The idea behind these celebrations was the idea of modernization. Noted historian Prashant Kidambi explains in his book ‘The Making of an Indian Metropolis’ that such groups were pushing a cautious modernisation of religion and were also creating a space for their communities within the civil societies.

Linking Gauri Puja with Mother’s Day was also a part of the modernization project. The event was linked with the day created in the United States. Though, the west celebrated it on the second Sunday of May every year.


India is now celebrating the Mother’s Day with more dedication than ever. The restaurants can be seen planning meals around this day. The malls can be seen decorated in pink theme. The retailers are designing promotions for Mother’s Day. Though quite new to India, the celebration appears to be sizeable. But do we know that Mother’s Day celebration is a huge-money spinner in the US?

In fact, this day marks the highest sale in the US after Valentine’s Day and Easter. It is the single biggest restaurant day in the US. Nearly 87 million adults chose to dine-out for a meal this day in 2018.

Experts say that the 2019 celebrations could have seen the additional business of a whopping $25 billion in the US alone. This is because the dutiful, often guilt-stricken, children are expected to spend largely on flowers, chocolates & cakes, jewellery and, an emerging category – spa treatments.

This is enough to indicate how much love retailers have for the mothers. And whether you like it or not, the retail industry is engaged in gross commercialisation of this mother-child bond.

How Mother’s Day started?

Born in 1864, Anna Jarvis was a religious woman. This woman was among the America’s first generation of women to go to college and work in an office. She move to Philadelphia for work and left her mother in West Virginia.

Never married, Jarvis frequently wrote letters to her mother to keep in touch with her. She persuaded her mother to move to Philadelphia in 1904, but her mother passed away on May 9th, 1904 upon moving.

To deal with her grief, Jarvis wanted to memorialize her mother and hence she conceived the idea of celebrating Mother’s Day in general. She wanted it to be held around the anniversary of her own mother’s death.

How Jarvis’ idea gained acceptance?

She wrote to distinct public figures and newspapers to promote her idea. The idea rang a bell in many heads, as intended. It was because the increasing urbanisation in the US had created many more like her who were living away from their families and remained nostalgic.

With more women in offices even churches were worried about the changing role of women – and they immediately agreed to the idea of celebrating the traditional roles women and the role of mother had a particular appeal.

In 1909, US Senator Elmer Burkett suggested that a day be set apart for the mothers of America every year. He added that American men “should on the second Sunday in May wear a white flower in honour of their mothers.”

The public got connected with the idea and welcomed it, and the churches and shops began supporting Mother’s Day.

Commercial motives

Burkett’s suggestion of wearing a flower proved crucial for the event. It marked a systematic, sustained campaign of commercial florists. Obviously, the florists could sense the potential and hence organised their trade associations to promote it. They used the power of their advertising spend and persuaded the editors in local newspapers to write about the event. Later, may other industries pushed their products for Mother’s Day too. And without these products, the event would certainly have had a smaller observance.

Instead of rapid commercialisation, the idea welcomed the support.

Initially amazed, Jarvis grew furious. She detested the commercial marketing of Mother’s Day but her anger was rooted in feeling unacknowledged. She also felt that the meaning of Mother’s Day was betrayed. She wanted children to write letters to their mothers, but the idea was replaced by greeting cards that profited the gift industry.

She fought hard against the commercialisation of Mother’s Day and drained her money and health for scaling a legal battle. She died almost penniless in 1948. But her care home bills were duly paid by the florists and other Mother’s Day businesses.

Idea reached India

Then the idea was carried around the world. In 1919, the Baptist Church in Mumbai’s Colaba region listed a special sermon for Mother’s Day in May. The on Hindu groups also drew certain parallels taking the American idea of Mother’s Day and linked it to varied Indian ideals.

Many desi Mother’s Day events also got ideated. In 1973, a feminist columnist Amita Malik noted how the US celebrated Mother’s Day, but India celebrated male-centric events like “Bhai Duj (brother’s day) and Jamai Shasti – I ask you, sending up fish rates for mere sons-in-law.”

In 1989, an animal rights group used Mother’s Day innovatively to protest beef production.

Modern commercialization

By the1990s, the commercial aspects of Mother’s Day took over in India too. The newspapers began running in-depth features about different aspects of motherhood – single mothers, abandoned mothers, widows – and advertisers began listing special Mother’s Day gifts and restaurant offers.

It has never stopped since. And there seems no stopping now. The idea of celebrating a mother was hijacked by commercial motives right in the start.

Today, the big companies launch various women oriented products on the day and restaurants try to lure people with attractive meal offers. Media too creates a big hype about the day with special programmes and features.

Marketing will always try to exploit any possible opportunity.  And for Mother’s day in the busier by everyday world, guilt sells.