The Bluebell Abbey Guide to Being British Part 1: Mothering Sunday
Posted on March 03 2018
From the Victorians, who revered their mothers by not actually seeing them until they were in their mid-twenties, to our own, beloved Queen Elizabeth, Mothers have helped shaped Britain. However, the United Kingdom is by no means alone in dedicating a special day to them. In Armenia it is celebrated as Maternity and Beauty Day, in Nepal as Mata Tirtha Aunshi (Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight) whilst in Ethiopia it is known as Antrosht and marked by a three-day feast.
In Britain however the day has its roots in the ancient practice of ‘going a mothering,’ where people who had moved away from home would return during Lent to attend their family, or mother, church, and visit their parents along the way – a tradition that was celebrated for centuries before being abandoned for no known reason.
It was therefore left to Britain’s raucous former colony, America, to create Mother’s Day as we know it; an act credited to social activist Anna Jarvis, who, after vowing to do so on the death of her own mother, lobbied the US government for an official day of recognition. After beginning her campaign in 1905, the ever-persistent Ms Jarvis finally saw it come to fruition in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson officially declared Mothers’ Day, marking quite possibly a new record in government-to-citizen response time. Interestingly, later in life, Anna Jarvis spearheaded the campaign to boycott Mother’s Day, which she felt had become too commercialised, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace during an anti-Mothers Day rally.
Not wanting to be outdone, Britain soon jumped back on board, thanks to the work of Constance Smith, a Vicar’s daughter from Nottinghamshire who heard about Anna Jarvis’s upstart campaign and started a similar one of her own. In need of a date and not willing to use America’s, Britain simply dusted off the date of ‘Going a Mothering’ and proceeded to take credit for the entire thing. In this they were greatly supported by the efforts of industrious British shopkeepers who recognised the marketing potential of this new date and began commemorating it with Sinnel - a fruitcake covered in a layer of marzipan that was by no means just leftover Christmas cake with the icing scraped off.
Today, Mothering Sunday is a treasured national occasion; a chance to honour the woman who brought you into this world in the most British way possible; first with undercooked eggs, burnt toast and a terrible handmade card produced in school and featuring a stick figure mummy, then later in life with flowers, chocolates and a commercially folded piece of paper filled with bad poetry – all whilst trying to ignore the passive-aggressive guilt about the frequency of your visits, and whether or not it would actually kill you to call more often.
What mothers probably want most of all however, is just for everyone to be nice for a change, not fight and allow her the opportunity for a nice sit down with a cup of tea, or an exceedingly large glass of wine, whilst others do the chores for once.
As good British children this is surely the least we can do.
If you do want to go the extra mile this Mother’s Day, here are five easy and affordable ideas to get you started.