Traditional Sundays: Millions mark ‘Mothering’ & ‘Meatfare’

Thank Mum today! It’s a centuries-old tradition. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsSUNDAY, MARCH 10: Downtown Abbey and British traditions are taking the world by storm—so envision those beloved characters in the BBC drama, especially those working “downstairs,” hoping to honor their Mums and perhaps attend church in their family parishes. The tradition has waxed and waned in the UK, but in the current Downtown era, between WWI and WWII, fresh interest was stirring among the characters in the themes highlighted by Mothering Sunday.

By the 1920s, the American Anna Jarvis already had made quite stir with her Mother’s Day campaign in the U.S. Then, a prominent British activist, Constance Penswick-Smith, wrote a 1921 book urging people in the UK to revive the centuries-old Mothering Sunday: this time, focus was less on visiting one’s “mother church,” as it had been, and more on paying homage to Mum. Penswick-Smith’s writings are out of print today, but she kept at it into the 1930s—and eventually the campaign crested when American soldiers wound up stationed in the UK during WWII. Those GIs missed their Moms!

By the 1950s, Mothering Sunday was observed full-scale across the UK. (Wikipedia has details.) So, if Julian Fellowes is reading today—or if you’re fans of Downtown yourself—we might plant the seed of a Mothering Sunday scene in the new season of the BBC drama?

Today, mothers in the UK enjoy everything from free admission to horse races to restaurant menus designed for their special day. (Read more in This is Local London and in this article.) Greeting cards and flowers remain the most common expressions, but some continue to bake the traditional Mothering Sunday Simnel Cake. (Find the authentic BBC recipe here.) In centuries past, families separated by work would reunite on this, the fourth Sunday of Lent, and partake of Simnel Cake together—and as a result, Lenten vows were traditionally relaxed on this Sunday. Simnel cake is now primarily served at Easter, although some continue to serve it on Mothering Sunday. Children of the UK—or elsewhere—can access art and craft ideas, discussion topics and suggested sermons and readings from The Children’s Society, a UK organization.


Eastern Christians around the world have a different traditional focus this Sunday—on giving up meat for Great Lent, which will start with Clean Monday on March 18 this year. In contrast to the Western Christian practice of Great Lent, Eastern Christians hold a strict fast throughout the season, following two weeks of “easing in.” Today is Meatfare Sunday, after which meat won’t be eaten until Pascha (Easter); next Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday, after which dairy products won’t be eaten until Pascha.

Western Christians did this earlier in Mardi Gras, although the majority of Western Christians don’t actually give up meat anymore. In contrast, many Orthodox families do turn to a centuries-old (and remarkably healthy) Lenten cuisine rich in grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, but lacking in meat and dairy products. Seafood most commonly fills the (complete) protein void during Lent, and seafood is consumed with gusto! In fact, Clean Monday in Greece means elaborate, traditional dishes centered around seafood.

There’s a contemporary twist to this ancient custom! Headlines around the world (like this one in the New York Times) are raving about the health benefits of the so-called Mediterranean Diet. Of course, that cuisine includes olive oil, which is given up for much of Great Lent. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be learned from Eastern Christians as they change their diet for this season leading to Easter.

For some Orthodox Lenten recipes, check out ideas from PBS and Vegan recipes also abound from the New York Times and AllRecipes.

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