Mothering Sunday is a day of honoring mothers in European countries. It is held on the 4th Sunday of the season of Lent. The season of Lent corresponds to Easter and as Easter is a floating holiday with no set date, Mothering Sunday is also a floating holiday and will also have no set date. This holiday should not be confused with the holiday of Mother’s Day.
The celebration of Mothering Sunday began centuries ago. During that time, life was so very different than it is today. Because many families were poor and could not care for all within the poor household, younger children were sent away to live with wealthier families. There, these younger children became “domestic servants” and would be assigned to one or more household chores including washing clothes, lighting morning fires, cleaning, scrubbing floors, washing dishes, and any other chores assigned by the wealthy family members.
One day a year was set aside which allowed these domestic servants to return home to visit their mother, their family members and their church. This day was called Mothering Sunday. As these children were walking home for their visits, they would stop and pick wild flowers, which would be given as gifts to their mothers.
As the world continued to grow, fewer children were taken from their homes. By the early 1900’s, the day of Mothering Sunday had all but faded from observance in Europe.
The reinstatement of Mothering Sunday
Constance Penswick-Smith was born in Dagnall, Buckinghamshire in the year of 1878. Her father, Charles Penswick-Smith, was a vicar; her mother was Mary Caroline (nee Baylis). Constance was the third daughter of Charles and Mary. She was of great character and worked as a governess during her younger years. Around the same time in the United States, a woman named Anna Jarvis was focusing on creating a day in which all mothers across the United States would be honored.
After reading Anna’s story, Constance Penswick-Smith began a movement in England to reinstate the honoring of mothers throughout the English communities. The movement became her lifetime obsession. As she explained in her booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday, first published in 1920, the real meaning of ‘a day in praise of mothers’ was fully expressed in the liturgy of the Church of England for the fourth Sunday of Lent when honour was given to mother church, mother churches (where baptism had taken place), and to earthly mothers.
Candice worked diligently throughout her years to reinstate Mothering Sunday the way it once was celebrated. She wrote several books including “A Short History of Mothering Sunday”, “More about Mothering Sunday”, and “The Revival of Mothering Sunday: Being an Account of the Origin, Development and Significance of the Beautiful Customs which have Entwined Themselves Around the Fourth Sunday in Lent, the True and Ancient Day in Praise of Mothers”. Candice did not want Mothering Sunday to be related to only one religion. Her vision was to have Mothering Sunday celebrated by all people. To accomplish this, she enlisted the aid of many of the local groups including the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, unions and even the Queen Mary in March of 1919.
Candice passed away in 1938. By this time, Mothering Sunday was being celebrated throughout England and its communities. Candice Penswick Smith had successfully integrated a special day to honor the mother church, the mother churches and the earthly mothers.
Mothering Sunday Tradition
One tradition associated with Mothering Sunday is the Simnel cake. A Simnel cake is a lighter version of a fruit cake and contains almond paste, cake batter, a variety of fruit and peels. On top of the cake, there are 11 round balls made from the almond paste which represent 11 of the apostles (Judas was not counted).