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British Life & Culture

Special Events and Celebrations

by Mandy Barrow

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Mothering Sunday
The UK's version of Mother's Day - 30 March 2014
Woodlands Junior School is in the south-east corner of England

primroses What is Mothering Sunday?

Mothering Sunday in the UK is the equivalent of Mothers' Day in other countries.

What happens on Mothering Sunday in the UK?

Mothering Sunday is a time when children pay respect to their Mothers. Children often give their Mothers a gift and a card.

Mothering Sunday church service
Many churches give the children in the congregation a little bunch of spring flowers to give to their Mothers as a thank you for all their care and love throughout the year.

When is Mothering Sunday (Mother's Day)?

Mothering Sunday (Mother's Day) is always the fourth Sunday of Lent.

18 March 2012 6 March 2016
10 March 2013 26 March 2017
30 March 2014 11 March 2018
15 March 2015 31 March 2019

Why is Mothering Sunday on different dates each year?

Mothering Sunday is not a fixed day because it is always the middle Sunday in Lent (which lasts from Ash Wednesday to the day before Easter Sunday). This means that Mother's Day in the UK will fall on different dates each year and sometimes even fall in different months.

Mothering Sunday has been celebrated in the UK on the fourth Sunday in Lent since at least the 16th century.

crossThe History behind Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday was also known as 'Refreshment Sunday', Pudding Pie Sunday (in Surrey, England) or 'Mid-Lent Sunday'. It was a day in Lent when the fasting rules were relaxed, in honour of the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand', a story in the Christian Bible.

Roman Spring Festival

The more usual name was Mothering Sunday. No one is absolutely certain exactly how the name of Mothering Sunday began. However, one theory is that the celebration could have been adopted from a Roman Spring festival celebrating Cybele, their Mother Goddess.

Chiddingstone ChurchMother Church

As Christianity spread, this date was adopted by Christians. The epistle in the Book of Common Prayer for this Sunday refers to the heavenly Jerusalem as "the Mother of all us all", and this may have prompted the customs we still see today.

It is known on this date, about four hundred years ago, people made a point of visiting their nearest big church (the Mother Church). The church in which each person was baptised.

Cathedrals are the 'mother church' of all other churches in an area ('diocese'). Canterbury Cathedral is pictured below.

Canterbury CathedralPeople who visited their mother church would say they had gone "a mothering."

Girls in Service

Young British girls and boys 'in service' (maids and servants) at the local Manor House or in a Mansion, were only allowed one day to visit their family each year. This was usually on Mothering Sunday.

For some this could be a significant journey since their mother may have lived some distance away, indeed another town altogether from the Manor where they were put in to service. Often the housekeeper or cook would allow the maids to bake a cake to take home for their mother. Sometimes a gift of eggs; or flowers from the garden (or hothouse) was allowed.

"Maids were put in to service for the Landed Gentry and paid a small salary but boarded free of charge. They dealt with everything from cleaning,washing to cooking, so to have a day of rest and be able to visit their mother was quite a privelledge."
Chris Richards, a visitor to our website

Did you know?
Mothering Sunday is also sometimes know as Simnel Sunday because of the tradition of baking Simnel cakes.

Simnel cake Simnel Cake

The most favoured cake was - as it still is in some families - was the 'simnel cake'. right of

I’ll to thee a Simnell bring
‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou’lt give to me
Robert Herrick 1648

The Simnel cake is a fruit cake. A flat layer of marzipan (sugar almond paste) is placed on top of and decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Christ.

Click here for a recipe for Simnel Cake

It was not eaten on Mothering Sunday because of the rules of Lent, instead it was saved until Easter.

The word simnel probably derived from the latin word ‘simila’, meaning fine, wheaten flour from which the cakes were made.

A Simnel is still made in many parts of England today, although it is now more commonly made for and eaten on Easter Day .

Mothering Sunday in England

England is one of three countries in Great Britain and is part of the UK.

Childhood Memory
Thank you for reminding me of the meaning behind our family traditions which I remember from the 1940s in Essex. My mother (born 1908) always baked a simnel cake for Easter, creating a depression in the centre before baking so that it rose with a hollow middle, into which she would put small eggs made of home-made marzipan. Paula

Childhood Memory in England
I remember helping to collect the bunches of wild flowers for the Mothering Sunday church service. I loved going up during the service to collect a bunch for my mum.

Childhood Memory in England
"I remember back in the 50's in London the florists used to sell small posies of violets at pocket money prices - 6d if I remember correctly (same price as a bar of chocolate!) and we made Mothering Sunday cards at school - although I think even then many were calling it Mother's Day." Dave Perkins

icon Mother's Day

In recent times Mothering Sunday has in Britain taken on the name and character of the US Mother's Day. The original meaning of Mothering Sunday is often unknown, although people are aware that it always falls in the middle of the Christian festival of Lent.

When is Mothers Day celebrated in other countries

"I live in Indiana, in the middle of the USA. I saw an advertisement about Mother's Day being just a few days away and was confused because in America we have it near the end of the month of May. A quick search on Google brought me to your wonderful web site where I learned quite a lot about the English tradition of Mothering Day. Thank you very the very well-written lesson on your culture. " Pat Palumbo

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and 
are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.