How we got from Mothering Sunday to Mother's Day

Posted by Les Ellison  ·  Be the first to comment

In the UK and Europe it’s the fourth Sunday in Lent and we call in Mothering Sunday. In the US and most of the world where American influence is stronger than the traditions of the English Church it’s Mother’s Day. How are the two days of honouring mothers and motherhood relevant to the world today?

Mothering Sunday is the older of the two traditions for honouring all things motherly. With its roots in the Christian church’s veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus, Mothering Sunday began as a day of light relief from the fasting of Lent. Evolving first into its Medieval role of honouring the ‘mother church’, later centuries gave Mothering Sunday new prominence placing all mothers at the heart of families disrupted by social and economic upheaval.

Mother's Day Proclamation

The American melting pot of many religious and cultural traditions gave no special prominence to Mothering Sunday. Far away from any mother church, the day could have no equivalent custom of visiting the mother church on another, distant continent. Then in the 1860s the relatively young nation of America was torn apart by a civil war like no other in history to that date.

Julia Ward Howe, an active pacifist, poet, abolitionist and campaigner for women’s suffrage, launched her Mother’s Day Proclamation. With its clear call for women to arise in response to the carnage of the civil war in America and Franco-Prussian war in Europe, her Mother’s Day Proclamation exhorted women to ‘…take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace.’

Mothers' Friendship Day

Another women’s campaigner, Ann Jarvis, set out to establish a ‘Mothers' Friendship Day’ to reunite families divided by the civil war. First attempts to establish a formal US Mother's Day were marked by meetings between mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the civil war.

US Mother's Day in its modern form was established by Anna Marie Jarvis, daughter of the founder of ‘Mother’s Friendship Day’ with the first ‘official’ Mother’s Day service on 10 May 1908. Anna Jarvis campaigned to establish Mother's Day first as a US national and later as an international holiday.

On 8 May 1914, Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day and a day for American citizens to show the flag in honour of those mothers whose sons had died in war.

Mothering Sunday: the trivia files

Author of the Mother’s Day Proclamation, Julie Ward Howe, was also the writer of the famous anthem ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’. Her biography, compiled by her children after her death, received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1916.

Over to You

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Mother’s Day is a separate celebration from the UK Mothering Sunday with a shorter tradition and very different origins. The UK tradition honours and celebrates the role and sacrifice of mothers where the US version puts more emphasis future hopes for peace.

  •  Do you think this a fair assessment of the two traditions, and what do you think is the most appropriate role for the day in present times?
  • How do you think Mothers could take more control of Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday and use it to promote issues and solutions to issues of importance to mothers and all women?

 Tell us. Post your ideas, views and tips - bizarre, brilliant or beautiful

24th February

February 24th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison

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