This Sunday marks Mothering Sunday, the one day of the year reserved for celebrating mothers of all ages, up and down the country. But have you ever wondered where the tradition of the day comes from? We’ve delved into the history archives to discover who inspired the occasion, and how it’s developed and grown since its founding.
Today, Mothering Sunday is a very modern affair, normally marked with giving mothers gifts, flowers, and a meal at a top restaurant. However, historians have traced the origins of Mothering Sunday back through to the days of ancient Greece and the Roman era. Every spring, the Greeks celebrated a festival honouring their maternal goddesses, focusing mainly on Rhea, the ‘wife’ of a god, and the mother of many of their deities. Similarly, the Romans celebrated the festival of Hilaria, dedicated to Cybele, a mother goddess. Both festivals included music, dancing, parades and games, with the Roman festival recognised and acknowledged nearly 250 years before the birth of Jesus.
Early Christianity recognised its own version of Mothering Sunday, marked to celebrate the Virgin Mary, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, tying into the upcoming Easter festivities. During the 1600s this developed into an early version of what we know today; parishioners would attend church to give thanks to the Virgin Mary, with children encouraged to bring gifts to give to their own mothers, typically flowers picked along the way to the service. Mothering Sunday has also been known as Refreshment Sunday, Pudding Pie Sunday (in Surrey), and Mid-Lent Sunday, with the strict Lent traditions relaxed to honour the Bible story of the Feeding Of The Five Thousand. The traditional Easter cake, Simnel cake, a delicacy normally associated with Jesus and his disciples, has also been used to mark the reuniting of families for Mothering Sunday during Lent.
Further examples of Christianity honouring mothers have been recognised in the custom of children, sent away to work from an early age (around the age of 10), to return home to visit their mothers, and for churchgoers to visit their birthplace to attend a service at their ‘mother’ church. With many people moving away from their hometown, they would start to visit their closest church, known as the ‘daughter’ church, but the Lent and Easter period encouraged them to return to their origins to worship at the ‘mother’ church or cathedral.
However, Mothering Sunday celebrations dissipated through the years, leading to Constance Penswick-Smith creating the Mothering Sunday Movement in 1921, encouraging a revival in the festival. This widespread resurgence was further supported by World War II, with American and Canadian soldiers contacting their mothers to mark the day.
Today, Mothering Sunday is marked every year by countries all over the world – USA, India, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan, Belgium – whether in conjunction with the UK date or their own. Holding onto past customs, presents given normally include flowers and home-made cards, with families coming together to visit each other and celebrate the family matriarch.