Gifts From Handpicked

Mothers Day Traditions and Customs

Shabby Chic Grey Mirror KeyboxMothering Sunday, is a day in mid-March, on which everyone is expected to pamper their mothers. The day is now more commonly referred to as ‘Mother’s Day’, a label imported from America, along with an increasingly commercialised approach to the day itself whose origins can be traced back centuries.

Americans, on the other hand, do not celebrate Mother’s Day during lent, as we in Britain do. They celebrate it in May, after a proclamation by Woodrow Wilson’s in 1914. Somewhat arbitrarily, Wilson chose that day in tribute to the woman who had led the campaign to get the day recognised, Anna Jarvis, whose mother had died in mid-May.

This success spurred Constance Smith, an Anglican living in Nottinghamshire, to push for the day to be recognised in Britain, too. However, Smith’s opinion on when exactly the day should fall was somewhat removed from Jarvis’s. While the latter’s reasons were deeply personal, the formers were more rooted in religious reasons.

Biblical roots

The service for the fourth Sunday of lent, or ‘Laetare Sunday’, contains a reading from Galatians, which was a book in the New Testament which consisted of a letter from Paul to some of the early groups of Christians in Galatia, a Roman province in what is now Turkey. The reading says that “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is mother to us all.”

Smith took the passage from Galatians as inspiration and decided that Laetare should be known as mothering Sunday. In doing so, she was reviving a practice whose roots extended back to before the reformation.


Another reason for the selection of Laetare Sunday is that, traditionally, the rules of fasting for lent are relaxed a little. This made it especially suitable for family gatherings; after all, if you have barely eaten for weeks, you will be more inclined to endure the company of your family, provided that food is on offer.

Of particular interest is the Simnel cake, which servants have long been expected to bake for their mothers, to present on their return from whatever household they had been serving at. This particular cake is a variety of fruit cake bisected horizontally with a layer of almond paste – another layer of which forms the icing on the top. The cake is typically decorated with eleven balls of icing in order to represent the eleven apostles who didn’t betray Jesus. The word ‘simnel’ is derived from the Latin ‘simila’, a variety of flour used in baking.

This cake is not as frequently made by modern sons and daughters as it was by their ancestors – a trend attributable, perhaps to the influence of more American, commercialised ideas of mother’s day. That said, a resurgence of home cooking and the popularity of television shows like The Great British Bake Off, may yet provide inspiration to young bakers across the land and cake for their long-suffering Mothers! If your mother loves cakes then why not try to bake one for her this mother’s day as well as getting her these great cake styled coasters or placemats

Pre-reformation customs

Before the reformation, many English churchgoers would move away from the parishes in which they had been born. They would instead attend their local parishes, or ‘daughter churches’. Once a year, these churchgoers would make the journey to their mother churches, and this journey was traditionally made during the middle of lent. As one might expect, these travellers used the occasion to reunite with their families, and catch up on the goings on of the parish.

Children would frequently work away from home; they would be given the day off so that they could visit their mothers. Many of them would bring gifts to their mothers, such as wild flowers they might have picked during the journey.

The lasting influence of Constance Adelaide Smith

Smith would, in 1920, publish a book, under a pen-name, entitled ‘The Revival of Mothering Sunday’. This book became very popular, perhaps in part because of the end of the First World War, in which so many mothers had lost their sons.

In this book, Smith advocated that the practice of Mothering Sunday should not be limited to a single Christian denomination, but should be spread through wider society. Her vision was, more or less, brought to fruition over the decades that followed. By the time that she died, in 1938, from tonsillitis, Mothering Sunday was practiced throughout the land.

Mothering Sunday is perhaps unique among significant dates on our calendar in that its popularity is down to the efforts of just two individuals. The great irony of the achievements of these two feminist agitators is that neither of them went on to become Mothers themselves.

This year make sure to mark the occasion and get a beautiful handmade Mothers Day gift to show them how much you appreciate them.