12 Mar 2021

Mother's Day: History and Tips

Our home-grown ‘Mother’s Day’ actually started out as a religious feast, called Mothering Sunday, which was celebrated in the 17th century. It was a feast day held to celebrate the Virgin Mary and the idea was that people would return to their ‘mother church’, to make it a family celebration. It took place on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and allowed for some easing of the Lenten fast – it was sometimes called ‘Simnel Sunday’ because it was traditional to bake simnel cake, a delicious concoction of dried fruits, spices and marzipan, which is also eaten at Easter. Inevitably, it became a family reunion, with mothers taking pride of place.

When the tradition began to fade in the 1930s a vicar’s daughter named Constance Penwick-Smith worked hard to revive it, with much more emphasis on celebrating motherhood. This changed focus owed a lot to the American invention of ‘Mother’s Day’, the brainchild of a grateful daughter, who wanted to honour her own mother, a peace activist during the Civil War. Mother’s Day became officially acknowledged in the US in 1914.

Confusingly, the two different versions of Mother’s Day have become conflated in many people’s minds, but in the US and many countries of the world Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, while in the UK we have adhered to the religious origins of the date, which is why it moves around from year to year.


Whatever the origins, the essential focus is the same.


  • Flowers are a traditional gift, and most mothers will be delighted with a spring bouquet. Carnations, which are regarded as a symbol of eternal love, are a popular choice. Or you may want to capitalise on the plenitude of beautiful tulips that are available at this time of year. Roses are a perennial favourite; opt for pink, yellow or white. Whatever your choice, buy flowers that are well-wrapped, preferably by a florist, and do not signal last-minute panic at the supermarket checkout.


  • There are abundant Mother’s Day cards available, and a well-chosen card is always appreciated. But don’t rely on a mass-produced message to do the work – Mother’s Day is about your unique relationship with your mother, and you will need to find individual ways to show your appreciation.


  • It is customary for the family to rally around and ensure that Mother’s Day is a time when domestic chores are off the menu, at least for mothers: treats could include breakfast in bed, a roast lunch cooked by the rest of the family, a home-baked cake for afternoon tea, washing-up and clearing away guaranteed.


  • This year’s celebrations are somewhat curtailed by lockdown and taking mothers out for lunch is not an option. You will have to improvise: perhaps you could hand-deliver a home-baked simnel cake; or maybe just promise a deferred treat when we’re all able to socialise again.


  • Ensure that children are involved in the celebrations. Encourage them to hand-make cards or assemble their own bouquets. They can certainly assist with cooking and baking. By giving them a role you will be reinforcing the message that mothers play a fundamental role in family life, and showing your gratitude to them is of paramount importance.


  • At the very least, ensure that you are in touch with your mother on this important day. Arrange to chat on the phone, or schedule a video call. When we are all enduring forced isolation, days that are time-honoured family celebrations can be particularly painful. So do your best to make your mother feel remembered and cherished.





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