I didn’t expect to find more to say about the possessive apostrophe in Mothers’ Day …
But then I received an email from Grammar Girl, letting me know that I should write Mother’s Day – it’s singular possessive because the day is about families honouring their individual mothers, rather than being a plural possessive honouring of all mothers.
I’m still not completely convinced. I looked up that source of trustworthy information, Wikipedia, and learned that Mother’s Day was trademarked by Anna Jarvis in the USA in 1912. In 1914, it was made an official holiday in the USA. Apparently Anna Jarvis was specific about the singular possessive, because it was an occasion for individual families. Anna later became dismayed by the commercialism of the day.
Mothering Sunday in the UK has a separate heritage. It’s on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and can be traced back at least to Roman times. It was originally a religious festival, where people visited their mother church – usually with their own mothers and other family members.
So where does that leave us today, in Australia? I think that the day we call Mothers’ Day is about celebrating all mothers, so I like the plural possessive. Interestingly, my preference could partly be because I’m never called ‘mother’, and I wouldn’t ever call anyone ‘mother’. I’m ‘mum’! And while I see Mothers’ Day as plural possessive, I think I’d be quite comfortable about Mum’s Day – a day for me as an individual mum.
So mums, enjoy your burned toast, flowers, and smelly candles! Happy Mothers’ Day (or Mum’s Day).
By the way, Grammar Girl’s regular email comes from Macmillan.