Mothering Sunday: Mums honored by Brits and across the United Kingdom

“I’ll to thee a Simnel bring,
Gainst thou go’st a Mothering.”
Poet Robert Herrick, 17th century

SUNDAY, MARCH 15: It’s Mother’s Day in the style of Downton Abbey—across Britain and the United Kingdom, the beloved tradition known as Mothering Sunday commences. Centuries ago, the fourth Sunday of Lent was a time for families separated by work to reunite and visit the mother church, or main cathedral in the area; children often picked wildflowers on the journey home to present to their mums.

Mums across the UK are still showered with bouquets on Mothering Sunday, though greeting cards, tea houses, spas, restaurants and even horse races now also cater to the honored women.


Mothering Sunday may not have found a spot yet in the plot of the internationally acclaimed Downton Abbey series, but that doesn’t mean the Downton cast and crew isn’t well aware of the tradition: Phyllis Logan (aka “Mrs. Hughes”) was recently interviewed about her hopes for this year’s Mothering Sunday. The culinary historian who writes this food blog, with all things in the name of the Abbey, also prominently featured a recipe for Simnel cake—a popular treat for Easter and Mothering Sunday.


In 16th century England, children who worked as domestic servants were customarily granted the fourth Sunday of Lent as a day off, so that families could take this Sunday to visit the “mother” church. (Wikipedia has details.) Lenten rules were relaxed, families spent the day together and, as a result, this Sunday was alternatively called Refreshment Sunday.

Did you know? In the Bible readings for the fourth Sunday of Lent, there are references to Jerusalem being the “mother of us all.”

By the early 20th century, the American Mother’s Day advocate Anna Jarvis was gaining international attention. Inspired by Jarvis’s work, British activist Constance Penswick-Smith penned a booklet that attempted to revive Mothering Sunday, but with a twist: This time, she suggested, Mothering Sunday should be focused on honoring Mum instead of on visiting the “mother” church. By 1938, Mothering Sunday was recognized in almost every parish in Britain, as well as by children—young and old—across the nation. (The Children’s Society, a UK organization, offers sermon ideas for Mothering Sunday.) By 1950, the holiday had spread across the UK.

Simnel cake: Though sweet buns were the treat of choice in the 16th century, the Simnel cake has since come to be associated with Easter and Mothering Sunday. A fruit cake with layers of almond paste, the traditional Simnel cake is sometimes decorated with 11 balls of marzipan, representing the 11 disciples (excluding Judas). The BBC has an authentic recipe of this cake, as does

What do the British do for Mum? Cards and flowers aside, countless pubs, restaurants and spas bring out their best services for Mothering Sunday. News reports are offering top-choice lists of places to take Mum, with opportunities from Manchester to Wales. Liverpool Cathedral has also announced a special service and lunch in honor of—who else?—wonderful Mum.

Mothering Sunday: UK holiday has ties to US Mother’s Day

“I’ll to thee a Simnel bring
Gainst thou go’st a Mothering.”
Poet Robert Herrick, 17th century

SUNDAY, MARCH 30: Honor mums everywhere today—and no, we don’t mean the flowers—but mothers, on the UK holiday, Mothering Sunday. Tracing its origins back centuries, Mothering Sunday used to serve as a type of family reunion, when all members would attend services at the large cathedral in the area, or mother church. Today, the revived version of Mothering Sunday serves as an occasion to thank Mums across the UK for all that they have done. (Learn more at Follow UK.) Since its inception, Mothering Sunday has fallen on the fourth Sunday in Lent.


With its lengthy Christian tradition, Mothering Sunday is not the UK version of Mother’s Day—and in fact, the two holidays were completely unrelated until about a century ago. Mothering Sunday had been widely observed in earlier centuries, when participants were said to go “a-mothering,” and even children who were serving as domestic servants in other households were permitted to visit their families on Mothering Sunday. (Wikipedia has details.) Often, children would pick flowers on the walk home to see Mum (and the rest of the family), and would present the flowers to her. Yet by the early 20th century, Mothering Sunday had all but lost its popularity.

Did you know? The Bible reading for Mothering Sunday speaks of “the Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all …” (Galatians 4:26)

Inspired by a newspaper article she had read on the overseas work of American Mother’s Day creator and advocate Anna Jarvis, Contance Penswick-Smith created the Mothering Sunday Movement in 1914. In 1921, Penswick-Smith wrote a book, asking for revival of the holiday; by the time World War II arrived, American soldiers celebrating Mother’s Day had revived even more interest in the Mothering Sunday Movment. (The Telegraph recently reported on the history of Mothering Sunday.) By the 1950s, Mothering Sunday was celebrated across the UK—and it still is today.