Origins and Traditions of Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is a traditional Christian holiday celebrated throughout the UK, as well as many other Catholic and Protestant countries throughout Europe and the world. It is usually celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and in recent years has become known as Mother’s Day – although this is infact an entirely different holiday.

The American Mother’s Day has become somewhat synonymous with these older Mothering Sunday traditions, although it is not related to this historic religious occasion; it is thought that the celebration of Mother’s Day in America began in the early 20th century.

Historically, when it was incredibly common for people to visit church on a regular basis, it was considered important for everyone to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. It became tradition for this to happen during Lent, and everyone would visit the main or mother church or cathedral in their diocese. Historians have come to the conclusion that it was this return to the ‘mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, mainly daughters who had gone to work as domestic servants, being given a day off to visit their mother and family. Mothering Sunday also became known as Refreshment Sunday, due to the fasting restrictions that were put in place during Lent being relaxed for the occasion.

Separately from religion, in today’s society it has become an occasion on which children honour their mothers with gifts, flowers and cards. As with many modern holidays, there are some traditional foods that accompany the festivities. Perhaps the most instantly recognisable is the simnel cake, the food most associated with Mothering Sunday. The cake is a fruit cake with a layer of almond paste on top and another in the middle, and is decorated with 11 balls of marzipan on the top. These represent the 11 disciples – Judas is not included. Traditionally, sugar violets would also be used to adorn the cake’s surface.

In the modern day, some other tasty treats that have become synonymous with the occasion is the great British afternoon tea, complete with pots of tea and scones with lashings of cream and jam. Perhaps treat your Mother to breakfast in bed this Mothering Sunday, and wake her with a tray piled high with pastries, tea, juice or whatever else you fancy. However you decide to celebrate the day, one thing is a must – it has to be all about Mum. After all, she deserves it.


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