History of the UK Mother's Day
Why is Mothering Sunday on different days 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).
The History behind Mothering Sunday
Mothering Sunday was also known as 'Refreshment Sunday' or 'Mid-Lent Sunday'. It was often called Refreshment Sunday because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed, in honour of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, a story in the Christian Bible.
No one is absolutely certain exactly how the idea of Mothering Sunday began, but it's known that on this day, about four hundred years ago, people who lived in little villages made a point of going not to their local church but to the nearest big church. To what was called the Mother Church. And some would go to the nearest city to worship in the cathedral.
People who visited their mother church would say they had gone "a mothering." Young English girls and boys 'in service' were only allowed one day to visit their family each year. This was usually Mothering Sunday. 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. Flowers were traditional, as the young girls and boys would have to walk home to their village, and could gather them on their way home.
In recent times Mothering Sunday has in Britain taken on the name and character of the US Mothers' Day. The original meaning of Mothering Sunday in England has been largely lost. Mothers Day in America is a fixed date and does not change from year to year like Mothering Sunday does in England.
The food item specially associated with Mothering Sunday is the Simnel cake. A Simnel cake is a fruit cake with two layers of almond paste, one on top and one in the middle. The cake is made with 11 balls of marzipan icing on top representing the 11 disciples. (Judas is not included.) Traditionally, sugar violets would also be added.
The name Simnel probably comes from the Latin word simila which means a fine wheat flour usually used for baking a cake. There's a legend that a man called Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether the cake for Mothering Sunday should be baked or boiled. In the end they did both, so the cake was named after both of them: SIM-NELL.