Where does Mothering Sunday come from?
March is almost half way through, and Mothering Sunday (the proper British term for what we tend to call Mother’s Day) feels like it’s approaching incredibly quickly. But between the mad dash to the florist and picking out the perfect card, have you ever wondered where this tradition comes from in the first place?
As far back as ancient Greek and Roman times, celebrations have been held in honour of maternal goddesses. However in Britain, Mothering Sunday evolved from the Christian custom for churchgoers to return to their original home church – or ‘mother church’ – once a year on the fourth Sunday in Lent. It inevitably provided an opportunity for employees, many of whom were young domestic servants living away from home, to travel back to their hometown and visit their families. This in itself became a celebrated occasion, with children bringing home small tokens for their mothers, or picking wild flowers for them as they walked home.
By the 19th century, the celebration of Mothering Sunday had almost completely died out. However, in America, Anna Jarvis founded ‘Mother’s Day’, a sentimental day for families to appreciate their mothers which was inspired by her own memories of her late mother. Much to Jarvis’ dismay, it quickly became commercialised and by 1920 she was actually urging people to stop buying cards and gifts.
Back in the UK though, Buckinhamshire-born Constance Smith had read a newspaper report of Jarvis’ original ‘Mother’s Day’ campaign and felt inspired to reinvigorate Mothering Sunday traditions. Smith put mothers at the forefront of the holiday, and revived customs such as the giving of simnel cake. Not wanting it to be a holiday exclusively for one Christian denomination, her reinvention gained popularity through her published booklet ‘The Revival of Mothering Sunday’ and groups like the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts.
Over time, Mothering Sunday has become a more secular holiday, and is now often referred to as ‘Mother’s Day’ in the UK despite its separate roots. It is a day for people to celebrate motherhood in all its forms and pay tribute to the maternal figures in their lives.
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