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Mothering Sunday

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Published: 5 Mar 2013      

As I prepare for Mothering Sunday, (which for those of you who haven’t noticed it advertised all over the place, it is this Sunday the 10th March), I decided to look up some of the history behind the day. I always had a suspicion that someone was behind the hype and not the church, were Mothering Sunday is traditional celebrated. I was correct. An American lady decided to create a day called Mothers Day and trademark it.

‘Mothers Day’ and were did the name come from… 

So ‘Mother's Day’ is an American invention and it is not directly descended from the many celebrations of mothers and motherhood that have occurred throughout the world over thousands of years, such as the Greek cult to Cybele, the Roman festival of Hilaria, or the Christian Mothering Sunday celebration. Despite this, in some countries Mother's Day has become synonymous with these older traditions.

Mother's Day is a celebration honouring mothers and motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in March, April, or May. It complements Father's Day, a celebration honouring fathers.

The modern holiday of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother inAmerica. She then began a campaign to make "Mother's Day" a recognised holiday in theUnited States. Although she was successful in 1914, she was already disappointed with its commercialisation by the 1920s. Jarvis' holiday was adopted by other countries and it is now celebrated all over the world. In this tradition, each person offers a gift, card, or remembrance toward their mothers, grandmothers, and or maternal figure on mother's day.

Various observances honouring mothers existed inAmericaduring the 1870s and the 1880s, but these never had resonance beyond the local level. Jarvis never mentioned Julia Ward Howe's attempts in the 1870s to establish a "Mother's Day for Peace", nor any connection to the Christian celebrations that included "Children's Day" amongst others.

Neither did she mention the traditional festival of Mothering Sunday, but always said that the creation was hers alone. In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases "second Sunday in May" and "Mother's Day" and created the Mother's Day International Association. So was Jarvis really upset with the day’s commercialism or decided to make some money selling license for the trade marks.

As the American holiday was adopted by other countries and cultures, the date was changed to fit already existing celebrations honouring motherhood, such as Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom or, in Greece, the Orthodox celebration of the presentation of Jesus Christ to the temple (2 February). Mothering Sunday is often referred to as "Mother's Day" even though it is an unrelated celebration.


Mothering_Sunday_internal_image.jpgSo what is Mothering Sunday really about?

Mothering Sunday is a Christian holiday celebrated throughoutEuropethat falls on the 4th Sunday in Lent. Secularly it became an occasion for honouring mothers of children and giving them presents.

During 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" (servants in richer households) 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 inIrelandand in continentalEurope. Constance Penswick-Smith created the Mothering Sunday Movement and in 1921 she wrote a book asking for the revival of the festival;Constancewas the daughter of the vicar of Coddington, Nottinghamshire, and there is a memorial in Coddington's church.

Its wide scale 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 andChurchofIrelandwere 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 theUK; by the 1950s it was celebrated across all theUK. 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.

So this Sunday when you visit your mother or your children hand you some flowers, make you a cup of tea and for those possible lucky ones to get breakfast in bed, we would like to wish you a Happy Mothering Sunday.