Mothering Sunday

Sunday 10th March 2013 is Mothering Sunday, which is a Christian holiday celebrated throughout Europe that falls on the 4th Sunday in Lent. Secularly it became an occasion for honouring mothers of children and giving them presents. It is increasingly being called Mothers’ Day, although that holiday has other origins. In the UK it is celebrated in the same way as Mothers’ Day is celebrated elsewhere.

free-vintage-cli-art-flowers-pink-white-hibiscusDuring the sixteenth century, people returned to their mother church, the main church or cathedral of the area, for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either a large local church, or more often the nearest Cathedral. Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “a-mothering”, although whether this preceded the term Mothering Sunday is unclear. In later times, Mothering Sunday 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.Children and young people who were “in service” (as household servants) were given a day off on that date so they could visit their families (or, originally, return to their “mother” church). The children 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 secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers.

By the 1920s the custom of keeping Mothering Sunday had tended to lapse in Ireland and in continental Europe. In 1914, inspired by Anna Jarvis’s efforts in the United States, Constance Penswick-Smith created the Mothering Sunday Movement, and in 1921 she wrote a book asking for the revival of the festival; Constance was the daughter of the vicar of Coddington, Nottinghamshire, and there is a memorial in Coddington’s church. Its widescale revival was through the influence of American and Canadian soldiers serving abroad during World War II; the traditions of Mothering Sunday, still practised by the Church of England and Church of Ireland were merged with the newly imported traditions and celebrated in the wider Catholic and secular society. UK-based merchants saw the commercial opportunity in the holiday and relentlessly promoted it in the UK; by the 1950s it was celebrated across all the UK.People from Ireland and the UK started celebrating Mother’s Day, but 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. Mothering Sunday remains in the calendar of some Canadian Anglican churches, particularly those with strong English connections.