As a child of the 60’s I was brought up understanding the fourth Sunday in Lent (or three weeks before Easter) as Mothering Sunday. It’s now called Mother’s Day and I assume d this was the same thing.
Or is it?
Well apparently it isn’t – Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day are two different things. But are the same thing. Confused? Well, hopefully this will help you work through the fuddle.
In the UK and Ireland, Mothering Sunday dates back to 16th century and has no connection to us mothers at all (sorry fellow mums!). It actually refers to the “mother church” which is to say the church at which you were baptised, the local parish church or cathedral of the area. On this day apparently (called Laetare Sunday) people would return to their mother church for a special service and this was referred to as “going a-mothering”. As time went on this day became a special event, with domestic staff being given permission from their employers to visit their families as well as to attend their mother church. The day became one of the few when whole families could join together due to long working hours, conflicting working hours and young people working “in service”. Often this visit back to the family to celebrate also resulted in presents to their mother as part of the celebration as they may not have seen them for the previous year.
However, by early 20th century the tradition had largely disappeared – only then to be revived again by a lady called Constance Penswick-Smith who started the Mothering Sunday Movement in the 1920’s in the UK.
Constance took her inspiration from Anna Jarvis in the US who a few years earlier (c1910) had invented Mother’s Day in order to honour her own mother who had been a peace activist during the US Civil War. Anna’s ambition was to create a formal “Mother’s Day” for all American mothers was initially rejected by many until in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially signed Mother’s Day into existence.
Interestingly, Anna Jarvis herself was the first person to condemn a growing commercialisation of Mother’s Day, and started organising boycotts of the event she herself created. One of her anti-Mother’s Day protests even led to her arrest for disturbing the peace, and she was particularly appalled by ready-made Mother’s Day cards, saying “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Buying chocolates was a no-no as well. “You take a box to Mother,” she scoffed, “and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”
Fast forward to the 1950’s and in the UK we started to see the development of the commercial opportunity afforded to retailers hence the date was , and has been since, relentlessly promoted as Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis would no doubt turn in her grave!
As a final snippet of Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day history – did you know that the Simnel Cake is actually tied in to the Mothering Sunday tradition? Generally regarded as purely an Easter related tradition it was historically a bit of indulgence to make up the austerity of Lent and a nice home baked present to take home to your mother on Mothering Sunday.
So, come Sunday – will you be celebrating Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day? I’ll leave that up to you and your familes.