Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
These days, it is more often referred to as Mother’s Day, although that name really belongs to the secular holiday originating from America which is quite distinct from the original Mothering Sunday. Traditionally, it was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church. Nowadays it is a day when children give presents, flowers, and home-made cards to their mothers.
Here at St Andrew’s and throughout the Church of England, we celebrate Mothering Sunday in our worship on the fourth Sunday of Lent. However, as Switzerland and therefore the local schools, celebrates Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May, we can take the opportunity today to thank all mother figures in our lives, and show appreciation for for their care and support. As we do so, here’s a little bit more about the history of Mothering Sunday and some of the traditions that have shaped it into the celebration recognised today.
The Journey to the Mother Church
Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church’. Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. Consequently, each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their ‘mother’ church – the main church or cathedral of the area.
In the 16th century, Mothering Sunday was less about mothers and more about church. Back then, people would make a journey to their ‘mother’ church once a year. This might have been their home church, their nearest cathedral or a major parish church in a bigger town. The service which took place at the ‘mother’ church symbolised the coming together of families. This would have represented a significant journey for many.
Inevitably the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.) Most historians think that it was the return to the ‘mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their mother and family. As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wildflowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.
A day off to visit Mother
Another tradition was to allow those working in the fields on wealthy farms and estates in England to have the day off on the fourth Sunday of Lent to visit their mothers and possibly go to church too. This was a variation on the theme of visiting the ‘mother’ church and was a move towards a more family focussed occasion. Before the days of cars and roads, family get-togethers were far rarer, (and facetime was still a long way off). In some ways this tradition is still alive today as grown up children often visit their parents on Mothering Sunday.
Also once known as ‘Simnel Sunday’, families would gather with freshly baked delicious Simnel cakes. Simnel cakes are made of two rich fruity layers that are boiled in water and then baked, before having almond paste spread on top and in the middle of the layers. Traditionally the cake would have been decorated with 11 balls of marzipan to represent the 11 disciples (not including Judas), whilst sugar violets were also a popular decoration for the cake. Such a treat midway through lent was greatly looked forward to. If you would like to have a go at making your own Simnel cake, click here for a recipe.
The washing up
However you and your loved one’s mark Mother’s Day let’s hope that, if there were wonderful little hands who keenly prepared a treat in the kitchen, they also remember to do the clearing up!