Mothering Day/ Mother's Day
Today’s Mother’s Day is a popular tradition honoring all mothers worldwide, but it has developed from a slightly different celebration. It is no coincidence that in the UK and in Ireland the holiday is observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and not in May, as in the US, Canada, or many other countries.
British and Irish Mothering Day, as it is called, falls in the middle of the Christian 40-day fast before Easter, because it used to honor the “mother church”, which is the one where a person was baptized or would attend masses as a child. The holiday’s first names were Mid-Lent or Laetare Sunday, but later on, with the invention of characteristic customs, some people began to call it Refreshment Sunday, Simnel Sunday (as in the traditional holiday specialty, “Simnel cake”) or Pudding Pie Sunday, all referring to the possibility to break the Lent fast and have a sweet. This long-standing tradition has been commercialized in the 20th century. Nowadays, Mothering Sunday has turned into Mother’s Day, though it is still celebrated on the historical date.
The occurrence of Mothering Day has most probably descended from the Greek festival of Rhea and the Roman festival of Cybele – both were the names of mothers of the gods. These holidays were observed during the second half of March. It is believed, however, that Mid-Lent Sunday was first celebrated in the 16th century and was known as the day when house servants and apprentices would be granted time off. On this special occasion, all the young workers were expected to go “a-mothering”: return home and visit their mother churches with families, paying homage to Virgin Mary and the sanctuary. As centuries have passed, Laetare Sunday was still the main holiday for family reunion. Soon it started reshaping into a celebration of the mother figure, as the whole celebration now revolved around her. She became the queen of the feast; on the Mothering Sunday morning some children would get up early in order to bake bread for the mother.
With time, the holiday was becoming less about the church and more about the female parent. Finally, in the interwar period, the observance almost disappeared. First attempts to reinstate the holiday were made by Constance Smith in 1913. She established the Mothering Sunday Movement and soon composed a booklet on this topic in 1920. For the British soldiers, Mothering Sunday was revived in the late 1930s, thanks to the American servicemen stationed in Europe. American soldiers had already recognized the highly commercialized observance, and the British and Irish moods shifted towards the new kind of holiday. Near the beginning of the 1940s, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and more such organizations already celebrated Mothering Sunday on a regular basis. In the 1950s, the holiday was finally popularized and commercialized throughout the UK.
Mothering Day, though not a public holiday in Ireland or Great Britain, is a very significant date in their calendars. The old holiday is still honored by some people there, who attend special church masses and bake Simnel cake. This special treat was a marzipan-layer cake decorated with eleven marzipan balls, one for each apostle (rejecting Judas), and the twelfth representing Jesus himself. Despite the fact that Mothering Day festivities are a minority in comparison to those of Mother’s Day, the 16-century tradition is definitely visible in some small traits. The fourth Sunday of Lent remains a day of the big feast in the middle of a fast, but the twist is that the heroine of the dinner is the mother – fully appreciated and showered with gifts.