Mothering Sunday

Image0695Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent, otherwise known as Laetare Sunday, or Mothering Sunday in the Anglican Church.

Following another great British tradition and the love of alliteration displayed by our meteorologists, it is misty and murky, wet and windy, with sleet and snow.

That doesn’t chill or dampen the warmth of all those showing their gratitude and appreciation to their mothers, however, and many UK Mums are enjoying a little extra attention and well-deserved pampering from their families today.

Over the years, what was originally a Christian holiday has become a secular tradition, and in fact is now more commonly known as Mother’s Day. However, that is not really the same thing. Mother’s Day is a twentieth-century American invention celebrated in May, that has caught on in many other countries and been popularised by card makers, florists, jewellers, chocolate companies, retailers and restaurateurs loath to miss a money-spinning opportunity.

The British Mothering Sunday goes back to the sixteenth century, when Church attendance was obligatory. It was the day when everyone went to their “mother church”, which was a large local church or cathedral, and became the one day of the year when domestic servants were allowed the day off to go home and attend church with their families.

In time, the idea of “mother” was transferred from the concept of a mother church to the mother of the family, and it was no doubt an occasion when mothers and their children were happy to be reunited. In many cases, it was the only day of the year when the whole family could be together, as working hours and places would have conflicted on most days.

English: Violets by the Pilgrim's Way. Far fro...

English: Violets by the Pilgrim’s Way. Far from shy, these deep purple flowers, traditionally picked as a gift for Mothering Sunday, were in full view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Children, maids and other young people in service, given this day off to go home, would pick wild flowers along the way for their mother, and so a bunch of wild violets became the customary gift on Mothering Sunday since violets were the most common hedgerow flower blooming in March or early April.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, these traditions had lapsed, but the introduction by President Woodrow Wilson of a Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May in the USA inspired Constance Adelaide Penswick-Smith to campaign for the revival of the observance of Mothering Sunday customs in the UK and throughout the British Empire. As a nation of shopkeepers, we have of course commercialised this day out of all recognition.

Interestingly, in some parts of the country other old names have survived: Refreshment Sunday, Pudding Pie Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday (la mi-carême in French), Rose Sunday, Sunday of the Five Loaves,  and Simnel Sunday.

Simnel Sunday refers, of course, to the baking of Simnel cakes which, like all good rich fruitcakes, taste so much better when they are a few weeks old. If I can summon the energy after digesting today’s copious lunch, and if I’m sober after the wine, I’ll maybe have a go again. It was, after all, a resounding success last year.

Simnel cake

Simnel cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


5 thoughts on “Mothering Sunday

  1. Pingback: What should a vicar wear on a Sunday? | Janet's Notebook

  2. Thanks, Cat, for telling us about this custom. I’ve never heard of it before! The Simmel cake looks lovely. To me it looks more like a cake you would have for Easter.

    • Yes, it is an Easter cake, but very rich with lots of dried fruit so it only improves with keeping. Like Christmas cake and birthday cake, you make it a few weeks ahead of time. There’s a layer of marzipan inside that melts into the rest, a bit like a very rich Dresdner Stollen.

  3. I looked a bit at the recipe and yes, it reminds a bit of Christmas or birthday cake. Dresdner Stollen I’m also familiar with. I love marzipan on cakes. It’s a great idea to have marzipan inside as well as outside the cake! Maybe people thought it could be eaten in mid-lent as a special treat for their mothers on mothering Sunday. Since mothering Sunday doesn’t seem to be well known any more at least the tradition of Simnel cakes is still remembered and it seems these cakes are usually eaten at Easter-time now or even as Christmas-cakes.

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