The Origins of Mothering Sunday

March 2021

The Origins of Mothering Sunday - words saying Mother's day

These days the terms Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day have become so interchangeable you would think one is a synonym for the other. But, in fact, that’s not so. Our British Mothering Sunday grew from a different place to the American Mother’s Day – but there is some overlap between them. So this blog takes a look at the origins of Mothering Sunday – and the difference between it and Mother’s Day. The latter always takes place on the second Sunday in May and I’ll come back to it later.

Like Easter, our British Mothering Sunday is a moveable feast that falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Thus, in 2022, it falls on Sunday the 27th of March.

Mothering Sunday then, isn’t – as I’d forgive you for thinking – a clever marketing invention by Hallmark cards. No, this day of celebrating and spoiling our mothers has its roots in ancient sociological and Christian traditions. The origins of our Mothering Sunday are centuries old.

Let them eat cake

There used to be a time when Mothering Sunday had another name: Refreshment Sunday. So called because it saw a relaxation of Lent’s fasting rules on that day.

Further, it may surprise you to know, that a food with strong Mothering Sunday associations is Simnel cake. As this blog from Love Food explains, ‘Around the 17th century, fancy Simnel cakes had an association with springtime. They turn up in Mothering Sunday celebrations, Easter or the ‘day off’ from the religious fast of Lent known as Refreshment Sunday.’

As for the Mothering part of things – that doesn’t relate to our birth mothers. Or at least not entirely. There’s a religious strand to the origins of this day that starts with the phrase: mother churchin other words, your parish church. Centuries ago, people felt a need to return to their mother church. That being the church in the village/town in which they’d been born. So, it became the custom, in the middle of Lent, for people to make an annual visit to the main church or cathedral of the area.

A day off from domestic drudgery

Now the mother church thread interweaves with another: that of social history. Back in the day it was common for children as young as 10 to leave home for 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, the employers of children working in domestic service granted them 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 must rejoice every year!

The Origins of Mothering Sunday - pink flower with love bracelet on it

Mothering Sunday across the pond

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.

Her story does though influence the British Mothering Sunday as this article from the Telegraph explains. By 1913 Mothering Sunday had become something of a dying celebration in Britain. But one Constance Smith (1878-1938) read a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis’ campaign in America. And that prompted her to start a revival of 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.

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.’

It’s a sad irony that neither Constance Smith nor Anna Jarvis became mothers themselves. Anna Jarvis disliked the growing commercialization of the day. Indeed, she disapproved of pre-printed 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.’

Treat Mum to some Pink&Green Skincare kindness. (And why not treat yourself too.) Use code LOVEMUM for a 40% saving on our range of products and gifts until 31 March 2022. (Excludes sale items, cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer.)

I love you mum - The Origins of Mothering Sunday

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