I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition

This post was originally published for Mother’s Day 2014. It is as relevant now as it ever was, so I am reposting it this year in honor of my sweet Mama. To those of you who never knew her, you missed a real lady.   


red-Carnations38Recently, I was handed a red carnation as an acknowledgement of my participation in a community event. Looking at it, I was reminded of a tradition in many churches when I was growing up.

On Mother’s Day, at least in the South, when you went to church you wore a carnation on your lapel or dress – a red one if your mother was alive, a white one if she had died. (Do you remember this?)

I really don’t know what was behind the labeling of ourselves that way; frankly, it seemed a little cruel to the white carnation people. I’ve since read that it was an idea promoted by the florists, which totally makes sense.

My sister and brother and I, along with my Dad, all wore red carnations; my mother wore white. Her own mother had died just days before I was born, an experience I now know had to have flattened her at that time. It takes my breath away just to think about.

I remember I would look around the church and notice all the people wearing white carnations and even as a child, I was gripped with profound dread. If it could happen to all these people – people I knew, even my own mother! – it could happen to me. I, too, could lose my mother.

I did. On July 17, 1997. 

No, I didn’t really “lose” her. I know where she is. As a Christian who trusted in Christ to save her from sin and death, she is now alive in heaven with Him; she and I are only temporarily separated by the veil of death. I miss her deeply but I trust there will come a day when we will be together again. That comforts me.

More than a few years ago

Her presence is still a daily part of my life. I have boxes and albums full of pictures of her. When I look in the mirror, I am reminded of her – I have her eyes, her smile, her hands. I even have her tendency to worry about just about everything. But most important, I have a deep faith of my own because of the faith she taught and modeled through her life, and even her death.

I haven’t seen that Mother’s Day carnation tradition carried out for many years now, at least not in the churches I’ve been a part of here in the North. But I can tell you this: My mother is very much alive this Mother’s Day, she lives on in my heart, my mind, and my memories.

This Sunday, if I had to choose which carnation to wear, I’d take the red one.


If you’d like to receive an email when I publish new posts, just click the “sign up” button in the right sidebar above (or if you’re on a mobile device, you’ll find it below under “visit full site”.)  I’ll send you a link to my free (really short) eBook, Harmony Is Hard: Humans Are Involved just for signing up.

About Diane Rivers

Diane is a native Floridian whose career as an FBI Agent got her transferred to the North. She's retired from that gig now and "repurposed" as a freelance writer, author, and sometimes poet who blogs about the bumpy, bone-jostling ride of her “workaround” life. She loves Jesus, her family, black coffee, kayaking, biking, and hiking, and she looks forward to eternity with the One who will make all things beautiful. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

5 thoughts on “I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition”

Your feedback is welcome!