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Floral Occasions & Holidays

All About the Official Mother’s Day Flower: The Carnation

April 23, 2020

When you really think about it, what don’t moms do? Since the day you were born, she’s loved and supported you – not to mention, she probably cooked, cleaned, had a job, and drove you to all those extracurricular activities. Even when you might not have realized it (those teenage years, anyone?), your mom always had your best interest at heart. That’s why each year, we spend one day honoring all that our mothers have done for us. And if part of the celebration includes getting your mom a little something special, it should be a carnation – the official flower of Mother’s Day. Below is a brief history about just how carnations became the symbol for motherhood.

The History of Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day

It’s believed the first celebrations honoring mothers were in Ancient Greece, when Romans held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. But it wasn’t until Europe in the early 1800s that we saw the first semblance of modern Mother’s Day. At the time, families in the UK and England celebrated “Mothering Sunday.” A day celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, it encouraged people to travel back to their “mother church” – the first church they ever attended in their hometown – for a special service. Over the years, Mothering Sunday transitioned into a more secular holiday, known as Mother’s Day, and was celebrated by kids giving their mothers flowers and other small gifts.

Who Was Anna Jarvis?

Anna Jarvis is considered the founder of Mother’s Day here in America. The story goes that after her mother, whom she was very close with, passed away, Anna vowed to create a day dedicated to honoring mothers both alive and deceased.

Why Carnations are the Official Flower for Mother’s Day

As a young girl living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Anna and her mother cared for a garden full of white carnations – her mother’s favorite flowers. In 1907, Anna delivered 500 white carnations to the church her mother taught Sunday school in. She then requested that each mother in the congregation get one as they arrived to church that week. Every year after that, the church upheld the tradition and continued to hand out carnations at their Mother’s Day service. Neighboring communities and churches soon took notice of this act, and began incorporating it into their own Mother’s Day services. In the mid 1940s, carnations were dubbed the official Mother’s Day flower.

Anna Jarvis once said that white carnations were the symbol of Mother’s Day, because they were thought to “typify some of the virtues of motherhood; … whiteness stands for purity; its lasting qualities, faithfulness; its fragrance, love; its wide field of growth, charity; its form, beauty…”

White Carnations

Colorful Carnations

Overtime, different colored carnations began to take on their own meanings. Because of their history, fragrance, and “heavenly soft” texture, white carnations became popularly thought of as the flowers you left at the grave site of a mother who had passed away. And even though it was white carnations that originally became popular, red carnations are also considered the official Mother’s Day flower. However, red carnations are believed to be a gift for mothers who are still alive, as it was believed carnations’ deep red petals represented that of a beating heart and love, rather than loss.

Carnation Care

If you plan on giving or receiving a bouquet of carnations, caring for them properly will ensure that they live a long, beautiful life. Here are some tips for caring for carnations:

  • Make sure they are placed on a windowsill or ledge that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight.
  • Be careful not to overwater them, as this can cause carnations to turn a musty, yellow color.
  • Never leave carnations near a radiator, oven, or other heat source. This will dry them out and cause them to die quickly.

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