It’s that time of year where you’ve probably been bombarded with promotional emails with a Mother’s Day subject line, online adverts and pop-ups of a similar nature, not to mention posters plastered across the windows of every card store and signage throughout your local supermarket.
It would be pretty hard to have escaped this advertising assault.
Mother’s Day generates significant sales in the UK – around £100 million – and with today’s blatant commercialisation of the celebration, there are many who oblige the retailers. At the same time, there are others who are increasingly cynical.
Perhaps it’s worth reminding ourselves of the origins of the day, who we have to thank for this yearly retail scrum for our cash and is it still as relevant as it could be in today’s society?
Rhea, the mother of gods and goddesses, was celebrated each spring by the ancient Greeks and every March, dating back as far as 250BC, the Romans celebrated Cybele, a mother goddess. Mothering Sunday was born out of Christianity in the 16th century. Held on the fourth Sunday of Lent it was originally a day to honour and thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary.
Ths celebration required people to return to their family church to make it a truly honoured occasion. This was a time when many people, often as young as ten, worked away from home in domestic service or as apprentices. This was the day they were permitted to return home, often picking flowers in the hedgerows on their journey to give as a gift.
It was also a day when fasting could be ‘eased’ and people were allowed to temporarily indulge in rich food, if they had the means. These celebrations were likely adopted from Roman ceremonies and gradually became an occasion to thank and appreciate all mothers.
Whilst the origins of this celebration are clearly not a complete manufacture of the gift, cards and flower sector, it has certainly been hijacked, and there seems to be a predictable superficiality to it all – it has to be considered if today’s schmaltzy incarnation needs a rethink.
A quick scan of the cards on offer, both on Mother’s and Father’s Day, often portray very gender stereotypical and potentially insulting messages – it’s long been recognised that traditional gender-based parenting roles have converged and that’s just in married heterosexual families. Single and gay parents also make up a considerable part of the population: perhaps it’s time for retailers to start marketing to a more representative society?
It’s not all about flowers and chocolates and a ‘day off’ for mum, if it ever was. Whilst many mums will enjoyreceiving these gifts and cards, I’m sure the thing that makes them happiest is spending time with their loved ones. Whilst officially recognised once a year, it would probably be welcome at any time.
Nadine Pierce is a marketer and MSc Gastronomy student. She lives in Edinburgh.