Just under a century and a half ago, an American mother issued a proclamation: Knock off all the fighting.
She wasn’t addressing her children (at least, not exclusively) – she was speaking to the entire country. Poet, suffragist and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, a New Englander, gave her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, beseeching an end to Reformation-era hostilities in the United States. Howe, also the author of the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” believed that women had the right and responsibility to affect social change through political advocacy – not a universally popular viewpoint at the time – and wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation as a response to the Civil and Franco-Prussian wars, as well as a call to convene a women’s congress.
A generation removed from Howe, Anna Marie Jarvis is celebrated as the, well, mother of Mother’s Day. Growing up in Webster, W.V., Jarvis watched her mother Ann found “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” in five different cities. The clubs did work to improve health conditions and sanitation. Following her mother’s death, Jarvis began campaigning for official recognition of Mother’s Day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson relented, and the rest is history.
And, of course, mothers have been admonishing youngsters to knock off the fighting since the beginning of motherhood.
New Orleans celebrates Mother’s Day in much the same way it does most other hallmarks – with the winning combination of food and music. Brunch is the traditional repast, and is rather a taster’s choice sort of decision, so we’ll address the entertainment angle. There are two ritual Mother’s Day concerts here in the Big Easy: Irma Thomas at the Audubon Zoo, and New Leviathan in the French Quarter.
Miss Irma has been performing her Mother’s Day concert at the Audubon Zoo for over 20 years now, according to zoo spokesperson Sarah Burnette. “It has become a tradition for a lot of families,” she says; “mothers get free admission on Mother’s Day, and it’s kind an iconic event. Everybody loves it, and everybody loves Irma.”
But practice hasn’t always made perfect. “One year we thought it would be fun to bring an elephant backstage to meet Irma,” says Burnette. “She was OK with it until the elephant did what elephants do right by Irma’s trailer.” Fortunately, everyone escaped without hurt feelings. “Irma and Emile [Jackson, Irma Thomas’ husband and manager] are always very gracious and fun to be around. It’s like an enormous family reunion,” says Burnette.
Since no concert is quite right without the merch section, there will be arts-and-crafts tents and gift stalls – “In case somebody really drops the ball and forgets to get Mom something,” says Burnette. There will also be refreshments outside of the zoo’s normal repertoire; for Mother’s Day, the menu will include alligator sausage skewers, crab cake salads, Jamaican jerk chicken and pecans in various permutations.
Irma Thomas & The Professionals don’t perform until 2 p.m., but the zoo opens at 10 a.m.; opening acts Patty Shukla Kids Music and Mark Brooks & Friends take the stage at the acre-wide Capital One Field at 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively.
At the other end of town, the Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates throw a different sort of concert. Slightly younger than the zoo’s concert, VCPORA has thrown concerts at Cabrini Park, on the 1200 block of Dauphine Street, for 15 years (with a brief hiatus around Hurricane Katrina). “It’s our gift to the neighborhood,” says executive director Meg Lousteau. “It’s a wonderful annual tradition. People come from the Quarter, from all over town.”
Since food vendors are impractical in the smaller Cabrini Park, concertgoers capitalize on the opportunity to bring picnic baskets to enjoy the stylings of the New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, a revival band that specializes in the music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The concert runs from 4 to 7 p.m. and admission is free, but Lousteau warns that, contrary to the liberty they usually enjoy, pets are prohibited from entering Cabrini Park during the concert.
And if Mama enjoys her shopping a little more than her music, don’t sweat it – the Magazine Street Merchants Association has you covered. Their Mother’s Day Eve extravaganza has undergone several name changes in recent years. At one point it was the Spring Fling and, later, an aberration known as “Shop Fest” shoehorned into the week between Jazz Fest weekends. This year, the carnival of capitalism will be known as the Champagne Stroll and is, as of press time, tentatively scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. on the evening before Mother’s Day, according to office manager Roxanne Candevat. “It’s open to the whole six miles [of Magazine Street],” says Candevat, who encourages shoppers to check the association’s website (MagazineStreet.com) for updates.
Out of respect to the holiday’s forbears, it’s worth mentioning that Anna Marie Jarvis quickly became disenchanted with the increasingly commercial nature of Mother’s Day. In fact, she and her sister drove themselves into poverty advocating against the very holiday for which Jarvis had campaigned. We will allow that holidays can no doubt lose their meaning in the sound and fury of advertising. The point to remember this Mother’s Day is that your mom (probably, assuming you’re reading this in relative comfort) fed you, clothed you and cleaned up after you for years. If only for one day a year, it would be nice to feed, clothe and pamper her in return.
The Grill Room at Windsor Court has crafted a special prix fixe menu for Mother’s Day. $85 a head gets you four courses, with an option for “Caviar and Champagne for Two” for an extra Benjamin. Sunday Brunch is served 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. 300 Gravier St., 523-6000, GrillRoomNewOrleans.com.
Arnaud’s offers a jazz brunch every Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Dixieland jazz lilts through the dining room as patrons enjoy a four-course, prix fixe menu. 813 Bienville St., 523-5433, ArnaudsRestaurant.com.
The Court of Two Sisters offers a do-it-yourself style jazz brunch every day (not just Sundays) from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., including egg and carving stations and plenty of turtle soup. 613 Royal St., 581-5804, CourtOfTwoSisters.com.
Broussard’s usually offers Mother’s Day Brunch on the afternoon of Mother’s Day (their menu is not yet available). Check back at their website, Broussards.com, for updates. 819 Conti St., 581-3866.
The Hindu tradition of “Mata Tirtha Aunshi” (Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight) predates western Mother’s Day celebrations by centuries. It is celebrated on the new moon day of the month of Baisakh (usually April or May), most prominently in Nepal.
Journalist Mustafa Amin introduced Mother’s Day to Egypt (and much of the Arab world) in 1943. Inspired by the story of a doting mother abandoned by her son when he achieved personal success, Amin advocated for Mother’s Day celebrations until Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser acknowledged its first celebration on March 21, ’56. Parenthetically, Amin and his twin brother Ali are considered the “fathers” of modern Arab journalism.
In western Europe, Mother’s Day celebrations gained popularity in the early 20th century on account of declining birth rates, particularly in France and Germany. Slightly removed from their American counterpart, Mother’s Day celebrations in these two nations generally revolved around matriarchs of larger families, including state-sponsored medals and awards based on how many children mothers claimed.
In the U.K. and Ireland, Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Traditionally, master tradesmen would allow their apprentices to visit their home churches on this Sunday, so young novices could be reunited with their parents in the middle of the season of fasting.
In the United States, Mother’s Day ranks with Christmas Eve and Easter for record numbers of church attendance; it’s also the biggest holiday for long-distance phone calls (a rather meaningless statistic since the advent of the cellular telephone), as well as one of the biggest for flower and greeting-card sales.