Mothering Sunday is almost upon us. And don’t think this has anything to do with the marketing department at Hallmark. Oh dear me, no. This is a blog about London and all things British, therefore very few of the habits, customs and, at times, arguably bonkers activities outlined on here come without centuries of preamble and tradition.
Mothering Sunday is no different. Its date moves about every year as it falls on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which I’m sure those traditionalists and keen Latin speakers amongst you will affectionately call, Laetere Sunday. It’s the halfway point during forty days of fasting and liturgical sobriety in the run up to Easter. Think of it as a kind of churchly chivvy along when you can enjoy a respite from your abstinence of choice (“Go on. You’re doing well. Have some cake. You’re halfway to Easter”). This Sunday Christians in church will also note an abundance of flowers where there have been none since Ash Wednesday and priests sporting rose-coloured vestments instead of the usual Lenten purple ones.
During the Medieval period when Christianity and the Church were significant social forces everyone had a home or “mother” church. This was usually the parish church where they and their forebears had been baptized and continued to attend mass. When workers had to move away in order to find gainful employment, Laetere Sunday was an annual opportunity to head home, celebrate mass in the mother church and enjoy a family reunion. And eat cake. Specifically Simnel Cake …
Anyway, back to Mothering Sunday…
Over time this became a day when apprentices, young men and women in domestic service were guaranteed a day off, a chance to travel home and see their mothers. A welcome punctuation of familial happiness in what could otherwise be a tough and unrelenting working year.
With the decline in domestic service and an increasing appreciation for what mothers do, Mothering Sunday became less about far-flung children and more about mums. Today in an increasingly secular age when rose-coloured vestments are optional and no one has as yet created a simnel cake in cupcake form, it’s this day when mothers are lavished with cards, flowers and (ideally) a lot of love. They’re a jolly hard working bunch and it’s rather great that they get some attention and spoiling.
Not a bad denouement for a millennium’s-worth of tradition. So let’s raise a cup of tea to all the mothers out there. Mothers! We salute you!
Zoë F. Willis is a London Perfect reservationist, writer and Londoner. Visit her blog Things Wot I Have Made to find out more about Zoë’s many creative talents!