Why the Mother's Day Corsage Is a Time-Honored and Meaningful Tradition in the South

Valerie Fraser Luesse
·2 min read

Did you grow up with Mother's Day corsages for Sunday services? In small-town Alabama, you'd better believe I did. This coming Mother's Day will be my first Sunday back at church after a long season of "doing my praying at home," as one member of my family used to say. And since Mama missed the Mother's Day service last year, I have no doubt she's looking forward to an especially fine corsage come May.

Technically, my mother should wear white flowers on Mother's Day because her mother has passed. But she doesn't care for white roses and can't abide carnations. Orchids are well and good, but her very favorite flower is the yellow rose. And so for years now, we have fudged the white-flower rule just a touch to allow She Who Must Be Obeyed her yellow roses on Mother's Day.

For the uninitiated, the longstanding Mother's Day tradition in the South is that we wear flowers to honor our mothers and to reflect their position in life: Is your mother here with us ? If so, you should wear red or pink flowers. However, if she has crossed over, you should wear white. In other words, your corsage isn't about you—it's about her, even though you're the one wearing it. So I'll wear pink or red flowers to celebrate my mother's presence next to me on our pew, while she wears her yellow-in-place-of-white to honor her mother in heaven.

yellow rose corsage
yellow rose corsage

David Anderson/Getty

The color-coded Mother's Day corsage is yet another way Southerners communicate without saying anything. When we pull over for a funeral procession, we're telling the bereaved that we understand their grief and we're so sorry for their loss. When we hold a door open for the person behind us, we're expressing our respect and a desire to be helpful. When we "carry food" to a neighbor or a fellowship hall, we're sharing love and community. And when we wear a Mother's Day corsage, we're saying "I love you and I'm so glad to share this day with you"—or "I'll never forget you and I'll love you always."

Who knew something as simple as a cluster of flower buds pinned to a church dress could say all of that?