Mothering Sunday was yesterday for our U.K. furriends. I thought that it was just another name for Mother's Day, and while there are certain similarities, I find that is not the case.
Mothering Sunday is a Christian festival celebrated throughout Europe. Secularly it is used as a celebration of motherhood, and is synonymous with Mother's Day as celebrated in other countries; the latter name is also increasingly used.
A religious festival celebrating motherhood has been existent in Europe since approximately 250 BC when the Romans honoured the mother goddess Cybele during mid-March. As the Roman Empire and Europe converted to Christianity, Mothering Sunday celebrations became part of the liturgical calendar as Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent to honour the Virgin Mary and the "mother church".
During the sixteenth century, people returned to their mother church for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either a large local church, or more often the nearest Cathedral. Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone "a-mothering", although whether this preceded the term Mothering Sunday is unclear. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, if prevented by conflicting working hours.
The Epistle for the fourth Sunday in Lent as set out in the Book of Common Prayer gives a special place to the theme of maternal love: Galatians 4:26 states that "Jerusalem which is above is free; which is Mother of us all."
The other names attributed to this festival include Simnel Sunday, Refreshment Sunday and Rose Sunday. Simnel Sunday is named after the practice of baking Simnel cakes to celebrate the reuniting of families during the austerity of Lent. Because there is traditionally a lightening of Lenten vows on this particular Sunday in celebration of the fellowship of family and church, the lesser-used label of Refreshment Sunday is also used, although rarely today.
Rose Sunday is sometimes used as an alternative title for Mothering Sunday as well, as is witnessed by the purple robes of Lent being replaced in some churches by rose-coloured ones. This title refers to the tradition of posies of flowers being collected and distributed at the service originally to all the mothers, but latterly to all women in the congregation. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, however, asserts that "the Golden Rose, sent by the Popes to Catholic sovereigns, used to be blessed at this time, and for this reason the day was sometimes called 'Dominica de Rosa'."
This Sunday was also once known as "the Sunday of the Five Loaves", from the traditional Gospel reading for the day. Prior to the adoption of the modern "common" lectionaries, the Gospel reading for this Sunday in the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Western-Rite Orthodox, and Old Catholic churches was the story of the feeding of the five thousand (for instance, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer stipulates St John's Gospel 6:5-14).
Another tradition associated with Mothering Sunday is the practice of "clipping the church", whereby the congregation form a ring around their church building and, holding hands, embrace it.
For some Church of England churches, it is the only day in Lent when marriages can be celebrated.
In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mothers and other family members.
Mothering Sunday remains in the calendar of some Canadian Anglican churches, particularly those with strong English connections.
Mother's Day in the United States was inspired by the U.K. celebration, however, it does have different origins. It is celebrated in May here in the States, and I will cover the history of Mother's Day in the United States in a Myth Monday post then.
To all of our U.K. and European mom-cats, we wish you a very happy Mothering Sunday!