Mothering Sunday

I know that the secularisation of this day is all around us, since most things Americana get here eventually, but the significance of this day is possibly not known to many people. Certainly I didn’t know where the term came from until I began my little research effort.

And no, since you ask, it’s not from ‘mothers’ as in ‘our mothers’, but rather it hails from a more feudal time when people were in service in towns or big estates far away from their home. On ‘Mothering Sunday’ those in service would be granted a special day off to return to their ‘mother church’ which would also be an opportunity to rekindle family ties. It’s easy to see how Mothering Sunday gradually transmogrified into a celebration of our mothers’ roles in family life. The Sunday, according to Wikipedia, being the fourth, or middle Sunday in Lent, was also referred to as Refreshment Sunday, when the austere Lenten rigours were slightly relaxed, or even Simnel Sunday because of the traditional cakes that were baked.

But, as is the way of the world, commercial interests have taken over, and now it’s more likely that we think of Mother’s Day as a time to take our Mother out to a lovely meal, so she can put her feet up with all her family around her, and enjoy their company without having to put on a big spread. I imagine that all dining establishments doing Sunday lunches in the area are well and fully booked for this event! That’s never quite been the way it worked out in our household, to be honest, but at least Carrie did always get a lovely daffy posy from the church as a memento. Also I think the children were particularly good at being good and not causing trouble.

This year she’s got a lovely bouquet of flowers from one adult child, and a visitation for Sunday lunch from another, with fiancĂ© in tow. The roast, a special topside of beef from Burnlaw Organic Meats, is in deep preparation for carving later.

The ultra-commercial aspect of Mother’s Day as seen in the States, of course, was invented by the card-manufacturers, notably Hallmark in the early 1920s, as another special reason to sell their wares. Turned out to be quite a wheeze, and much resented by the real American founder of the day, one Anne Reeves Jarvis, who had promoted the day for sentiment, not profit, and under whose urging then-President Woodrow Wilson in 1911 designated the second Sunday in May as ‘Mother’s Day’. Anne Jarvis was so infuriated by the commercialisation of the day that she turned against it, demonstrating and organising card boycotts throughout the ’20s, and arguing for hand-written letters of appreciation to mothers, rather than cards.

We’ve been looking at the supplement in the Hexham Courant this week with notes from Primary School children in praise of their mums. Can’t get my head around it, somehow, but no doubt it’s advertising revenue for a struggling local weekly paper. We were surprised at how acquisitive so many young children seem to be, expressing love for their mums because they buy things for them. Really? Is that really why children love their mothers? No, but somehow it’s all they can think of at the time. An increasingly commercial culture or what? And yet, the children did find time for a nice drawing of their mothers, and laboriously hand-written notes.

Try pitching that idea to the more grown-up young folks today, who might find it difficult to pick up a writing instrument and make legible writing marks on a piece of paper, though they’d be sure to manage a text with emot-icons interspersed through it faster than I myself could produce a clean writing sheet and useful pen. I know that my own hand-writing skills have deteriorated markedly over the years, so I’m not blameless at all — though most folks would be more grateful to receive a typed note from me rather than a scrawled piece of correspondence, I’m sure. For example, had I written out my birthday poem for my dear mother last summer in my own hand, she couldn’t have read it! The concept of ‘a fair hand’ is something our mothers might have had, but it’s not very au courant anymore.

Still, cards and notes and sentiments however expressed are always, always in my experience, particularly and fondly appreciated by our mothers, on whichever day in the world the occasion is celebrated, and if they’re cossetted, made to feel that bit special, beloved and embraced, then it’s got to be a very special day that encompasses the whole family back.

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