Happy Mother’s Day! Sorry, we mean—Mothering Sunday!

First, don’t worry! American Mother’s Day isn’t until the second Sunday of May (although it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead). Today is what families in the UK and parts of the Commonwealth traditionally call: Mothering Sunday! (Given the dominance of American culture, however, many UK families have started calling it simply Mother’s Day.)


First you’ve heard of this? Confused, because you don’t see this delightful crayon graphic on your Google page? That’s because you’re not visiting the UK version of Google: http://www.google.co.uk/ Head over to that version of Google and you will see this design, shown at right, on March 18. With a click on the crayon drawing, you’ll see the scope of this holiday. The American “Mother’s Day” phrasing is dominant these days. With a weary sigh, a columnist for This Is Cornwall says that he wishes people had retained the original British name: “I know it is generally known as Mother’s Day, now, but there is something of the traditionalist lurking inside me so I like to go on using its original title.”


Auguste Rodin’s Cybele, via Wikimedia Commons.Like many of the milestones in the Christian year, Mothering Sunday has ancient roots. In the Christian era, this became a traditional holiday for returning to one’s Mother Church and was closely associated with family reunions in parishes.
But before Christianity? There was Cybele!
This was Cybele’s big spring festival. Archaeologists and historians debate the roots of Cybele—and lots of later neo-pagan interpretations have overlaid her memory with additional stories. Basically, all agree that she was an ancient symbol of the earth’s bounty in giving new birth each year. Greeks celebrated Cybele one way. Romans adopted their own verison for Roman spring festivities. Christians later substituted Mary as the over-arching mother figure—and we have Mothering Sunday, today.

Of course, Cybele didn’t disappear and many great artists, including Auguste Rodin, kept her name and her image alive. Rodin was intrigued by her iconic image and experimented with various versions of this earthy-yet-human figure. Today, if you do explore Google on Mothering Sunday, you’ll find about 3.5 million pages on Cybele, including some contemporary attempts to revive her as a spiritual figure. Her name is most popular today in fashion, design, music and software. Not bad for a mother figure whose roots go back, some argue, about 8,000 years!

Want more on the Lenten season? Here’s a quick index to several recent Lenten stories in ReadTheSpirit.


In 2012, British history and manners of bygone eras once again are popular in American culture. Millions are buzzing about Downton Abbey, at the moment, just to name a single hit series. So, here is the background on the British remembrance of “mother churches.” Centuries ago, families were split apart when young children—particularly daughters—left home to become domestic servants in other households. On this one Sunday, however, children were given the day off and the entire family would pay a visit to the main church in the area, known as the “mother church.” In time, the reunion brought about the tradition of children gathering wildflowers on their way home to visit Mum. (Some children also baked a cake, and brought it home for their mother on this special Sunday. Find a recipe for Simnel Cake, the traditional cake for the day, courtesy of the BBC.) In Christian services today, the Bible readings also reflects a perspective on motherhood, but with a twist: Galatians refers to the Jerusalem “above … which is the mother of us all,” and references are made to the children of Abraham. And of course going way back to the Christianization of the ancient world—churches celebrate the motherhood of Mary.


Mothering Sunday may not be associated with Mother’s Day, but coincidentally, American vigor for the holiday spurred its revival. (Get celebration ideas from The Children’s Society of the UK.) By the 1920s, Mothering Sunday had almost been forgotten; when American and Canadian soldiers serving in Europe during World War II showed appreciation for their mothers, UK retailers began promoting the holiday once again. Today, most children present their mothers with cards, small gifts and flowers on Mothering Sunday.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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