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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008

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Mothers and families to the fore

Today as well as the coming Thursday would be very special days for all of you as members of a family. Why? Because today (the second Sunday of May) is Mothers’ Day and May 15 (Thursday) is the International Day of Families. The two days are also related, with the mother holding pride of place as the most important member of the family unit.

Mothers’ Day is held on different days in different countries, but always with the same purpose - to honour mothers - the givers of life. The difference in the dates is mostly to do with the different origins associated with the event.

One theory is that the custom of worshipping mothers originated in ancient Greece, where a festival was held to honour Cybele, the great mother of Greek gods. This festival was held around the Vernal Equinox and later spread to Rome and was held between March 15 and 18.

Ancient Romans also organised a festival called Matronalia which was dedicated to the goddess Juno. This was a day when gifts were presented to mothers so the custom of showering mothers with gifts on Mothers’ Day may have originated with this event. In the UK and Ireland, the day, also known as Mothering Sunday, was held on the fourth Sunday of Lent (three weeks before Easter Sunday).

The tradition of having Mothers’ Day on the second Sunday of May originated in the USA. It was introduced by Julia Ward Howe after the American Civil War as a call to unite women against the war. In 1870, she wrote the Mothers’ Day Proclamation as a call for peace and disarmament.

It is believed that she had been influenced by Ann Jarvis, who, from 1858, tried to improve sanitation through Mothers’ Work Days. While the war was raging on, she tried to get women from both sides to improve the sanitary conditions on each side. Ann died in 1907 and her daughter Anna Jarvis started a campaign to get a memorial day for women.

The very first Mothers’ Day was held on Grafton, West Virginia on May 10, 1908 in the church where Ann had conducted Sunday school. Grafton is now home to the International Mothers’ Day Shrine.

The event spread to 45 states and was declared officially by some states in 1912. US President Woodrow Wilson declared the first Mothers’ Day in 1914. As much as the family is dependent on mothers, fathers play an equally important role. This role will be recognised on this year’s International Day of Families as it will be conducted under the theme ‘Fathers and Families: Responsibilities and Challenges’.

This day was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 1993. The UN uses this day to encourage governments and other organisations to initiate family-oriented projects, hold special conferences, symposia and cultural events on the family, bring into force family legislation, and discuss national family policies. Now you see the importance of this week.

It is not only a week to honour your mother, but your entire family. Show them that you love and care for them. Make a commitment to learn and practise good family values while inculcating such values in the other members of your family as well, especially your younger siblings.

However, we in Sri Lanka need not wait for these special days to show our respect and love for our mothers or families because traditionally, we have been taught to value family ties.But such days could be used to strengthen these ties.

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