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Guest Post: Mothering Sunday

By: Anne (U.K.) - March 21, 2010

[Last Sunday (March 14) was Mothering Sunday in Britain. Anne offered me this post, but between one thing and another I didn't get back to her in time to publish this last Sunday. So I meant to post it first thing this morning ... but between one thing and another I missed it. My apologies to Anne, and to readers who missed the chance perhaps to celebrate along with millions of others who celebrate Mothering Sunday. Please enjoy it now as a report of last Sunday's activities, and I'll link to it again next year in time for us to honor the day ourselves. -- AEP]

Mothering Sunday (not to be confused with “Mother’s Day”, which dates back to the 1870s America) is celebrated in many countries around the world on the fourth Sunday in Lent, so counts as a moveable feast. Its origins lie way back in Ancient Greece, when a festival day was given to honouring Rhea, the Mother of the Gods and Goddesses. Ancient Rome adapted the festival in honour of Cybele, and as with most things in Rome, enlarged and expanded the festival to last for several days. Conversion to Christianity resulted in Mary, the Mother of Christ, replacing Cybele as the object of (aka excuse for) celebration, and the day was placed on the Catholic Church calendar as Laetare Sunday.

The more recent origins of Mothering Sunday take us pre- Reformation England, where the tradition of visiting one’s ‘Mother Church’ (i.e. the church in which one was baptised) arose on this particular day, and where possible, people would visit their Mother Church (or local Cathedral, if the former proved impossible) bearing gifts. Over the years the tradition evolved into taking gifts home to honour one’s mother, until children (here we are generally referring to those who were employed in domestic service or as apprentices; in both cases they would be expected to live in their master’s house from around 10 years of age) were given one Sunday off a year to visit their homes, their families, and to take small gifts to honour their mothers. For many it would be the only chance they had each year to see their families. This became known as ‘going a-mothering’.

Church services in the Church of England also reflected this special day; the tradition (usually courtesy of those who worked abroad in the service of Empire) is today celebrated throughout the world on different dates. It may be interesting to learn that the custom was only adopted in Japan as late as 1997!

The Mothering Sunday posy (here demonstrated by the Parish Church of St Giles, Liverpool) is one long- held church tradition associated with Mothering Sunday: simple, charming, at immense odds with the huge bunches of flowers now hawked by retailers in the lead-up to this particular Sunday. Another tradition is the baking of Simnel Cake, kind of a ‘half way through Lent’ reward (the day was also known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’), and, after all, what is the point of a family reunion without something yummy to eat?! Eleven small marzipan balls on the top of the cake represent the Apostles (Judas wasn’t included). In more recent times, Simnel Cake has been associated with Easter, but its origins lie most definitely in Mothering Sunday.

I’ll to thee a simnel bring
’Gainst thou go a-mothering;
So that when she blesses thee
Half that blessing thou’lt give me.

(Robert Herrick, 1591- 1674, ‘Dianeme’)

To re-enact Mothering Sunday within your own families this weekend, here’s a Simnel Cake recipe. (Disclaimer: This appears to be an American-friendly version of the recipe, couched in American baking terms of reference, and thus supplied for ease of reference for our American readers, as all Brits should have their own Simnel Cake recipe anyway!) It’s still the ‘authentic’ cake.

Whatever the origins, or whenever the date, it is apparent that we feel a need to recognise, revere, celebrate and express our gratitude and appreciation for the women in our families who sacrificed much (too often in very difficult conditions) to nurture and care for the children they had borne, and all too frequently, ran the risk of losing. Throughout the year, Ardis’ posts on Keepa provide an opportunity to learn more of the lives of some of these unsung heroines. So wherever you are this weekend, why not go a-mothering? Whether it be literally, maybe virtually, maybe by simply recording recollections of women in your family who have been influential in your life in whatever way, shape, or form. Too often their names and stories remain hidden by the mists of time; we can start to change that this very day.

Happy Mothering Sunday!



5 Comments »

  1. This is a great custom, one I have not heard of before. Back in 1968, my husband was out of work. We decided to choose a place to live, THEN find a job. In looking for our perfect place, it had to be in a rural area, close to a temple, close to a university, and I said it couldn’t be more than an hour’s drive from my mother. Until she died in 1990, I visited her every week or two. Ssome people thought I was crazy, but it was important for me to spend time with my mom and dad, and as their health declined, I spent a lot of times helping care for them, spending several days at a time there.

    Actually, although I stressed my mother, I usually did something with my sister, or sometimes went to the Family History Library in Salt Lake while I was there. I also had cousins, in-laws, other siblings, and friends in the area, too.

    Comment by Maurine — March 21, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

  2. Nice post.

    In Bahrain (and I think elsewhere in the Middle East) Mother’s Day is March 21.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 22, 2010 @ 4:38 am

  3. Fantastically informative post, Anne, excellent!

    Comment by Alison — March 22, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  4. Wow. What a great, informative post. (I can now tell my kids what a “pocketful of posies” is!)

    On a more serious note, I always feel a twinge of loneliness for all the young boys who left their families at such a young age for apprenticeships. I guess the parents would want to know the master well, as he would basically be raising their child to adulthood.

    Anyway, I’m going to bake a mothering cake this week (two weeks late, I guess, but it’s America, so nobody will know, right?) and be sure my Mom knows how much I appreciate her.

    Comment by Clark — March 22, 2010 @ 11:04 am

  5. thank you for the nice comments!

    Clark, it might shock you to learn that many parents couldn’t wait to get their offspring employed in domestic service or apprenticed. One less mouth to feed in a perpetual struggle. Not all families, but from the reading and family history research I have done, far too common, unfortunately.

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — March 22, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

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