The History of Mums

What started out as a simple token gift from a teenage boy to his girl has morphed into a tradition of gargantuan proportions that, again, proves everything is bigger in Texas. The homecoming mum has come a long way since parents of today’s teens were in high school.

Back in the 1900’s, mums were an actual real chrysanthemum flower given by a boy to his date, similar to a corsage given for a prom. “There were a few ribbons on them, but it was basically a flower you pinned to your blouse,” recalled suburban Houston mother Lauren DeLorimier, who went to school in the 1970s. “Somewhere between the 1970s and the 2000s, that all changed.”

Recorded information about chrysanthemums can be traced to China about 3,500 years ago. Chinese scribes in China first wrote that chrysanthemums were first used as flowering herbs – their roots were boiled and used as a headache remedy. The sprouts and petals were used in salads by ancient Chinese culinarians. Ancient Chinese people called the flower the “chu” named after the city of Chu-Hsien (chrysanthemum city).

The Japanese were introduced to the chrysanthemum about 2,800 years ago. The crest and seal of the emperor and many prominent Japanese families of nobility included a Kikumon, meaning chrysanthemum (kiku) and crest (mon). To this day, the Japanese remain enamored with the mum – they have a mum festival known as the Festival of Happiness.

In 1753, Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus gave the flower the name of chrysanthemum after the Greek words “chrysos” (gold) and “anthemon” (flower). Within about 20 years, the chrysanthemum found its way to the colonies which later became the United States, where its popularity grew over the decades until it became the “Queen of the Fall Flowers.”
Evolution of the mum

The first homecoming celebration dates back to the year 1911. University of Missouri Athletic Director, Chester Brewer, afraid that fans and alumnus would not attend the “big game” due to a change in location, devised a plan to add some excitement to the game. He challenged the alumnus to return home for a great celebration with parades, parties, a rally, and of course the big game. Over 9,000 fans returned home for the event, which is recorded as the first official homecoming game. The rest is history. Now almost every middle school, high school, and college in the country continues this annual tradition. Part of the southern tradition is the Homecoming Mum.

Blogger Lee Ann Lewis remembers, “When your date arrived to pick you up for the big game, you practically snatched the long florist box out of his arms and tore into its contents. (Yes, dear friends, I hark back to a time when a mum was a REAL flower – not one of those fake silk/paper jobs!) And you beheld it. And it was good. Your mother helped you pin it on, and if you were lucky, it took two pins. Ah, the fragrant aroma of autumn flowers and glue. Oh the gentle sound of rustling nylon ribbon and tinkling cowbells, like a herd of little goats trotting down a Swiss mountainside. The best part came when you arrived at the stadium, and had a chance to size up the mums worn by your friends. Whose date had forked over the most money? How long were their streamers? How many cowbells and plastic footballs dangled at the end? Who were the lucky ones to have a football player’s number, shaped from pipe cleaners, stuck in the middle of the bloom? Was her name written in glittery gold letters? Did she have a single mum, or a double? Or a triple? There has always been a great deal of “mum envy” at every Homecoming game. But then, that’s sort of the point. ”

As time went on, in the 1970s, homecoming mums became more elaborate and have continued to grow to the mammoth size they are today. Now they include a huge flower (albeit a silk flower has replaced the real chrysanthemum as the centerpiece), tons of large ribbons, charms, bows, bells, cowbells, stuffed animals, perhaps the high school mascot, and even LED lights in some cases! Even guys have their own version of the mum, called the garter – an elastic band worn around the upper arm that has the same features as the mum only on a much smaller scale. Dallas-area resident Theresa Hagerman, “When I was growing up, the homecoming tradition was a parade with floats representing different school organizations,” she said. “That isn’t done so much anymore, at least around here. To me, the mums replace the floats and celebrate the kids and what they are all about.”

The tradition of the mum involves an exchange between a boy and girl who go to homecoming together. The boy presents a girl with a mum that she wears attached to a cord around her neck. The girl presents her date with a mum attached to an elastic garter that he wears on the upper part of one arm.

Only one person can be a homecoming queen, but everyone can wear a mum fit for royalty. Think of trinkets and charms as jewelry for your mum. As tradition goes, most mums have bells and whistles, and usually a football or two, and maybe a rabbit’s foot for luck. Charms are usually chosen to represent the wearer. A basketball may be added for a basketball player, a music note for a band student, etc. Letters and numbers are applied on the ribbons with the wearers name, school year, boy or girlfriend’s name, etc. Ribbons are also a part of the look. Braided ribbons or beaded garlands of stars, hearts, footballs, bears, or chains are added to personalize your mum. Remember, the more the better.

Currently, Mums can be gigantic, over-the-top splays of silk chrysanthemums festooned with flowing ribbons, plush animals and an array of colorful trinkets that have spawned competition to see which one is the biggest, and therefore, possibly the best.

A mum can never be thrown away, but it CAN be donated to the future, or kept for your kids to see someday. Mums can be packed away in a box at the end of High School. That box might be lost when parents move, but that doesn’t matter.  It’s a TRADITION!

A mum is a memory.
SOURCE: The Mum Shop / Lee Ann Lewis, Rattling Around in My Head / Reuters / Michaels@ Website (edited: former band president Anna Marsh, 2022)