Mothering Sunday

Today marks Mothering Sunday – I hope you all remembered at least a phone call to or card for the mum or mother figure in your life. As with all holidays, mothers day is becoming more and more commercialised with lavish presents advertised and expensive cards, boxes of chocolates etc. being promoted as the thing every mum wants. But what are the origins of Mothers Day and how far have we deviated from the essence of it years on?

The History

The Mother Church

During the 16th century, people in the UK returned on the 4th Sunday in Lent for a service in their ‘mother church’ – the main church or cathedral of the area. Back then, this was a day less about your mother and more about the church you were baptised in, was your family church when you were growing up before you moved away or more often just your nearest cathedral. Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “a-mothering” and was usually a long journey for most.

A Day off to see mother

In later times, ‘Mothering Sunday’, still on the 4th Sunday of Lent, became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their ‘mother church’, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions.

Children and young people who were also given a day off, would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday the the secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers came into play.

By the early 1900s the custom of keeping Mothering Sunday had been forgotten in most of Europe.

Making A Comback

Early in the 20th Century, Anna Jarvis in the United States, held a memorial to honour her own mother and all mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. This event marked the first official observance of Mother’s Day. In 1914, US President Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday of May as the official date in the US for Mother’s Day.

Inspired by Anna Jarvis’s efforts, Constance Penswick-Smith in the UK created the Mothering Sunday Movement, and in 1921 she wrote a book asking for the revival of the festival. Its wide scale revival was through the influence of American and Canadian soldiers serving abroad during World War 1 and the original traditions were merged with the newly imported traditions and celebrated in the wider Catholic and secular society.

UK-based retailers saw the commercial opportunity in the holiday and relentlessly promoted it in the UK and by the 1950s, it was celebrated across the UK.

People from Ireland and the UK started celebrating Mother’s Day on the same day that Mothering Sunday was celebrated; the fourth Sunday in Lent. The two celebrations have now been mixed up, and many people think that they are the same thing. Other countries in the world celebrate Mother’s Day in May rather than ‘Mothering Sunday’ during Lent.

Mother’s Day Now

Today, churches around the country will be sharing their own traditions, celebrating and giving thanks to the huge impact mothers, and mother figures, have on our lives. The church recognises that the day may be difficult for some people and so it is common place for services to include prayers for those who don’t find the day particularly easy.

Families across the country will be preparing little presents and cards and in some churches flowers are blessed and handed out during the main service.

Families tend to come together to have lunch, or children make breakfast in bed for their mothers, leaving all the mess to be cleared up later! It’s all about showing appreciation and many make a huge effort to make their mother feel special.

Simnel Cake
Credit: BBC Good Food

Simnel cake is a type of fruit cake that contains plenty of marzipan and is eaten at Easter, although it used to be specifically associated with Mothering Sunday. When people were fasting during Lent, Mothering Sunday which was in the middle of the fast, offered a respite from 40 days of restraint. Traditionally, there are eleven marzipan eggs placed on the top of the cake to symbolise the Jesus’ disciples – Judas being excluded.

So there you have it, the history of Mother’s Day! I hope all the mums out there, if all shapes and sizes have a wonderful day regardless of their own personal situations.

Prayer For Mother’s Day

Loving God,
Thank you for mums and children
and for all the joy of family life.
Be with those who are grieving because they have no mother;
Be close to those who are struggling because they have no children;
Be near to those who are sad because they are far apart from those they love.
Let your love be present in every home,
And help your church have eyes to see and ears to hear the needs of all who come.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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