10 Things You Might Not Know About Mother's Day

iStock.com/FeelPic
iStock.com/FeelPic

Everyone knows Mother's Day is the day to shower your mom with affection (and maybe take her out for a nice meal). But just how many people plan to do that each year? Here are a few facts and stats about Mother's Day that might surprise you.

1. The day was first suggested by a famous poet.

A stamp depicting Julia Ward Howe
A stamp depicting Julia Ward Howe
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The woman who first proposed Mother's Day in 1870 was the same woman who wrote the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." After the Civil War, writer Julia Ward Howe suggested a Mother's Day to recognize peace and protest war. She organized annual events in Boston to honor mothers, but despite her work (and her moving "Mother's Day Proclamation"), nothing official came of her efforts.

2. The founder fought back.

Mother and daughter taking selfies with gifts
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Although Julia Ward Howe first suggested a day for mothers, Anna Jarvis (who had no children of her own) campaigned for a national day of observance for moms, in remembrance of her own mother, Ann Jarvis, who had spent years working to provide resources for poor mothers in West Virginia. Mother's Day became a designated holiday in 1914, but within a few years, Jarvis became disgusted with how commercial the day had become and started a petition to rescind the holiday. (That clearly didn't come to pass.)

3. It's an active day on the phone lines.

child holding cut-out heart
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Call volume in the U.S. goes up 11 percent on Mother’s Day, and one study suggests that the more widespread use of cell phones has greatly increased the amount of contact adult children have with their mothers. So don't look like a slacker: Your mom definitely expects to hear from you, and not just with a text.

4. It's the busiest day of the year in the restaurant industry.

Senior mother and daughter eating lunch together at restaurant 
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If you're thinking about taking your mom out to eat, you might want to consider which time of the day will have enough open tables. Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants, with some 80 million adults dining out (which tops even Valentine's Day). Nearly half of those people will be out for dinner, as opposed to lunch or brunch, so if you'd like to treat your mom to her favorite cuisine, perhaps go earlier in the day.

5. The jewelry and spa services industries get boosts too.

Happy kids surprising their mother with a gift for Mother's Day 
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You know you need to get your mom a gift, but what to buy? According to the National Retail Federation, over $5 billion will be spent on jewelry this year (accounting for 35 percent of shoppers). Another 38 percent of consumers will purchase clothing, 15 percent get electronics, and 24 percent will spend $2 billion on personal services (like spa treatments) for their mothers. But if you want to let mom pick out her own gift, you aren't alone—45 percent of surveyed consumers said they planned to go the gift card route.

6. The flower industry is the big winner.

Mother's Day carnations in planters
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Carnations quickly became the symbol of Mother’s Day (supposedly representing the tears of Mary when Jesus was crucified) when it began in 1914, and soon the floral industry promoted the idea of wearing a red carnation to honor a person's living mom or a white carnation to honor a mother who had passed. Although this tradition has faded, 76 percent of moms are still hope to get flowers from their kids or loved ones on this special day. Their odds are good—Mother's Day is the number one day for floral sales, and the NRF's survey revealed that a whopping 67 percent of people were planning to buy flowers this year.

7. Moms around the world are recognized with days throughout the year.

Happy daughter and senior mother enjoy eating in restaurant 
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Many countries have a Mother’s Day, though they don't always fall on the second Sunday in May like it does in the U.S., Australia, China, Japan, and India. Flowers and gifts are a worldwide tradition for the day, but in Thailand parades are held and jasmine is commonly given as a gift. In Serbia, moms are tied up with rope or ribbon until they give sweets and gifts to their children.

8. Many people honor multiple mothers in their life.

breakfast foods with "I love you Mom" card
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You’re probably planning on sending your own mom a card, but are you going to send cards to other mothers as well? The average consumer buys 2.8 Mother’s Day cards, so most people are buying for more than just their own mom (like, say, for their grandmothers, wives, mothers-in-law, sisters, or friends). In fact, 57 percent of mothers says they’ve received Mother’s Day gifts from non-family members.

9. Statistics show dads need to step it up.

Dad and daughter surprising mother with a present
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While everyone knows you need to get something for your mother, 47 percent of moms think that dads should buy the mother of their kids a gift. Don’t hold your breath though, moms: Only 6 percent of dads agree!

10. Moms still come out ahead for mother's day.

A senior woman celebrating mother's day with her family
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Even if fathers might not be the ones driving floral sales on Mother's Day, if there were a monetary competition between the parental appreciation days, mothers would win outright. On average, people spend $133 on Father’s Day compared to $196 on Mother’s Day. Sorry, Dad.

This list first ran in 2017 and an updated version was published in 2019.

Why Do We Eat Candy on Halloween?

Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images
Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images

On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped buckets and pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treating for candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through a centuries-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did the holiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans, Catholics, and candy companies.

Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was the precursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival for honoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believed still walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.

When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebranded many pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the “feasts of All Saints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." The new holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but many traditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food. The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usually baked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.

Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes were distributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of the deceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honor the saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evil spirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds for modern-day trick-or-treating.

Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the United States. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark the end-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted of homemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soul cakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.

It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in the U.S. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming, and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors. The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids to dress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that most kids would turn their noses up at today).

That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. They had already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter, and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy in the fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true. Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and began marketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have a convenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candy companies made billions.

Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, and the perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowl of Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eating soul cakes instead.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

10 Questions About Columbus Day

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ihsanGercelman/iStock via Getty Images

Every American student learns that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and landed in the New World in 1492. Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr.'s poem "History of the U.S." has made it impossible to forget the date (although the couplet actually predates her birth), and many federal workers get a day off every October to recognize the explorer's arrival in the New World. You know the who and where, but here are 10 more answers to pressing questions about Columbus Day.

1. When did Christopher Columbus become a cultural icon?

By the early 1500s, other navigators like Amerigo Vespucci and Francisco Pizarro had become more popular and successful than Columbus had been with his off-course voyages. According to The New York Times, historians and writers in the latter part of the 16th century restored some of Columbus’s reputation with great words of praise for the explorer and his discoveries, with his fellow Italians proving particularly eager to celebrate his life in plays and poetry.

2. How did Christopher Columbus's popularity reach the United States?

Blame the British. As the American colonies formed an identity separate from their mainly English roots, colonists looked to figures like the "appointed of God" Columbus to symbolize their ideals. "By the time of the Revolution," writes John Noble Wilford, "Columbus had been transmuted into a national icon, a hero second only to Washington." Columbus's American legacy got another shot in the arm in 1828 when a biography (peppered with historical fiction) by Washington Irving transformed Columbus into an even more idealized figure who sought to "colonize and cultivate," not to strip the New World of its resources.

3. When was the first Columbus Day?

The first recorded celebration took place in 1792 in New York City, but the first holiday held in commemoration of the 1492 voyage coincided with its 400th anniversary in 1892. President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation in which he called Columbus a "pioneer of progress and enlightenment" and suggested that Americans "cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life."

If Harrison had had his way, though, the holiday would have been celebrated on October 21. He knew that Columbus landed under the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar we use today—making October 21 the correct date for anniversary celebrations.

4. Did anyone actually celebrate Columbus Day in the 19th century?

Italian Americans embraced Columbus as an important figure in their history and saw celebrating him as a way to "be accepted by the mainstream," the Chicago Tribune notes. The Knights of Columbus, an organization formed by Irish Catholic immigrants in 1882, chose the Catholic explorer as their patron "as a symbol that allegiance to their country did not conflict with allegiance to their faith," according to the group's website. Following President Harrison’s 1892 proclamation, they lobbied for Columbus Day to become an official holiday.

5. When did Columbus Day become an official holiday?

The holiday first found traction at the state level. Colorado began celebrating Columbus Day, by governor's proclamation, in 1905. Angelo Noce, founder of the first Italian newspaper in the state, spearheaded the movement to honor Columbus and Italian American history. In 1907, the Colorado General Assembly finally gave in to him and made it an official state holiday.

6. When did Columbus Day become a federal holiday?

With Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, lobbying from the Knights of Columbus paid off, and the United States as a whole observed Columbus Day in 1934. Thirty-four years later, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Holiday Bill, which designated Columbus Day as a federal holiday.

7. Why does the date of Columbus Day change every year?

Columbus Day was originally celebrated on October 12, the day Columbus landed in the New World, but the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect in 1971 and changed it to the second Monday in October, as well as moved the dates of Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day to Mondays (Veterans Day would be moved back to November 11 in 1980 after criticism from veterans’ groups). The act of Congress was enacted to "provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Monday, and for other purposes."

8. Does every state observe the Columbus Day holiday on the same weekend?

In Tennessee, Columbus Day comes with an asterisk. The state’s official holiday observance calendar reads that Columbus Day is the second Monday of October, or "at the governor's discretion, Columbus Day may be observed the Friday after Thanksgiving."

9. Which states don't celebrate Columbus Day?

In Hawaii, the second Monday of October is known as Discoverer’s Day, "in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands, provided that this day is not and shall not be construed to be a state holiday," KHON2 writes. According to the Pew Research Center, only 21 states treated Columbus Day as a paid state holiday in 2013. South Dakota, New Mexico, Maine, and the District of Columbia celebrate Native Americans Day or Indigenous People's Day as a paid holiday. Several cities, like San Francisco and Cincinnati, celebrate Indigenous People's Day.

10. How do other places around the world celebrate Columbus Day?

In Italy, Columbus Day (or Giornata nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo) is listed as one of the national or international days of celebration and is still on October 12, but it's not a public holiday. Some countries have chosen to observe anti-Columbus holidays like the Day of the Indigenous Resistance in Venezuela and Nicaragua, Pan American Day in Belize, and the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity in Argentina.

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