Like Easter, our British Mothering Sunday is a moveable feast that falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This year, 2018, Easter comes early so Mothering Sunday falls on the 11th March.
It would be easy to get the idea that Hallmark cards invented Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day. Yet, the origins of our British Mothering Sunday lie in historical and Christian traditions – but more of that later.
Nowadays, we tend to refer to this day of celebrating our mothers and spoiling them a little – or even a lot – as Mother’s Day. The only problem there being that it confuses the old British Mothering Sunday with the American Mother’s Day. That’s a different thing altogether and takes place on the second Sunday in May. Indeed, the fact that there’s a Mother’s Day across the pond at all is down to a campaign carried out by Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) whose own mother had died on May 9th. Yet her story influences the British Mothering Sunday as this article from the Telegraph explains.
By 1913 the British Mothering Sunday celebration was dying out. But a certain Constance Smith (1878-1938) read a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis’ campaign in America. Seeing that prompted her to revive the British celebration. In 1920, Under the pen-name C. Penswick Smith, she published a booklet entitled ‘The Revival of Mothering Sunday’. So, if you’re a mother with children that acknowledge the occasion, it’s Constance you have to thank.
But there was a key difference between this new version of Mothering Sunday and the original.
A High Anglican, Constance Smith believed that the Church of England liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Lent expressed a ‘day in praise of mothers’. As it happens this is not quite so.
In fact, the Collect on that Sunday asks God that ‘we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved’. That doesn’t sound all that maternal does it? Indeed, the only specific maternal reference is in the Lesson on this day: ‘Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all.’
Let them eat cake
Once upon a time, Mothering Sunday was also known as Refreshment Sunday because Lent’s fasting rules saw relaxation on that day.
The food most associated with Mothering Sunday, and not Easter as you might think, is Simnel Cake*. Constance Smith had a finger in this slice of tradition too in reconnecting simnel cakes with honouring mothers.
A further religious strand to the tale lies in the phrase ‘daughter church’ – otherwise known as your nearest Parish Church. Centuries ago people felt the importance of returning to their ‘mother church’. This being the church in the village/town where they were born. So, on an annual basis, in the middle of Lent people visited their mother church – the main church or cathedral of the area.
A day off from domestic drudgery
Now comes another thread: that of social history. Back in the day it was common for children as young as ten to leave home to work in domestic service. There was no lingering in bed playing video games in those times.
It was inevitable then that this return to the ‘mother church’ became a time for family reunions. So, as this BBC article explains, children working in domestic service got the day off to visit their mothers and their families. It’s thought that, as these children walked along the country lanes to visit their families and their ‘mother’ church, they’d collect wild flowers and violets to give as a gift. An idea for which Interflora and florists everywhere must be forever thankful!
It’s a sad irony that neither Constance Smith nor Anna Jarvis became mothers themselves. Anna Jarvis disliked the growing commercialization of the day and disapproved of pre-printed cards. She observed: ‘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.’
Should you be on the hunt for ways to spoil your mother, the Fab Gift Boutique has plenty of tempting offerings in our online gift shop for all budgets. Giving a pampering present is a popular choice. If your budget can’t stretch to a day at a spa for mum how about either an organic bath oil and candle gift set or this hand lotion and rosewater toner duo?
For a lasting Mothering Sunday memory check out our personalized butterfly tea-light holder. And if you’re a dad buying for your partner’s first Mother’s Day then this lovely wooden photo frame – complete with your own photograph of course – will be sure to delight. Or, perhaps from an older child, this mummy wall art photo frame is super cute.
Wishing mums everywhere a warm and loving Mothering Sunday,
PS: Oh crumbs
*Simnel Cake: A Simnel cake is a fruit cake with two layers of almond paste, one on top and one in the middle.
The cake has 11 balls of marzipan icing on top representing the 11 disciples. (Judas is not included.) It was a tradition too to include sugar violets.
On why it’s called Simnel cake: The name Simnel may be a derivation of the Latin word simila – a fine wheat flour used for cake baking.
But there’s a a more entertaining alternative explanation. Legend has it that a man named Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether to bake or boil the Mothering Sunday cake. In the end, they did both so the cake became named after both of them. SIM-NELL.