Mothering Sunday is held on the fourth Sunday of Lent. It is exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday and usually falls in the second half of March or early April. This year it falls on Sunday, March 31st. However, when you say ‘Mother’s Day’ you are actually referring to the American version. In the USA it falls on the 2nd Sunday in May, ever since President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it so in 1914. Many blame the USA for introducing the name Mother’s Day to Britain and turning it into a commercial affair.
The French celebrate the event on a different day altogether – ‘Maman’s’ special day is reserved for the last Sunday in the month of May. A family dinner is the norm, and traditionally the mother being honoured is presented with a cake that looks like a bouquet of flowers.
Mother’s Day in Spain is known as ‘Dia de la Madre’ in Spanish and is celebrated on the first Sunday of May. It used to take place on December 8th every year until 1965 when it was moved to its current date, partly to disassociate the secular mother’s celebrations from the Catholic honoring of Immaculate Conception.
The day has long been associated with mothers, and family. For centuries it was custom for people to return home to their ‘mother’ church on Laetare Sunday – the middle of Lent. Those who did so were said to have gone ‘a-mothering’. The day often turned into a family reunion and a chance for children working away from home – often domestic servants – to spend time with their mothers. Many used to pick flowers from the verges along the way to leave in the church or hand to their mothers when they got home.
It was American social activist Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) from Philadelphia who campaigned for an official day to honour mothers in the US and is regarded as the “Mother of Mother’s Day”. She dedicated her life to lobbying for the day after swearing she would do so after her mother’s death. However, she became increasingly concerned at the commercialisation of the day, saying “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She also didn’t like the selling of flowers and the use of greetings cards which she described as “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write”. In May 1932, Mother’s Day was adopted in Japan, after 19 years of observance by Christians, showing the wide reach of Jarvis and the embracement of Mother’s Day internationally.
Meanwhile in Britain, vicar’s daughter Constance Smith was inspired by a 1913 newspaper report of Jarvis’ campaign and began a push for the day to be officially marked in England. Smith, of Coddington, Nottinghamshire, founded the Mothering Sunday Movement and even wrote a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920.