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The truth about Mother’s Day

Things I know about Mother’s Day: correctly Mothering Sunday, early in the year, ancient celebration, all about being nice to mothers and appreciating their efforts.


Mother’s Day is not Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday is ancient. Mother’s Day is modern. And American. Mothering Sunday has nothing to do with mothers. Mother’s Day does. Mother’s Day only really came to be accepted (in Britain) in the 1950s when it got commercialised. Confusingly, the British have chosen to hold both celebrations on the same day.

The first modern (British) Mother’s Day was held on 8 August 1917.

I always had my doubts.

14 comments to The truth about Mother’s Day

  • Jacob

    Next thing – you’ll doubt apple pie.

  • Mr Ed

    Things get ‘commercialised‘ if there is a demand, and it might be an illustration of Say’s Law, supply creates its own demand, that by commercialising something, you can raise its profile and popularity, to the extent that unsatisfied demand exists. Afaik, the US version of Mother’s Day is a non-event in the UK, with the Lent event filling a gap for restaurants ekeing through the lean Q1 of a year with only Valentine’s Day and perhaps a Burns Night to fall back on.

  • Laird

    I had never before heard of “Mothering Sunday”, so I’ve learned something today. As to Mothers Day (in the US), it is essentially a creation of the greeting card companies. They’ve done an excellent job of it. In fact, it worked so well that we now also have Fathers Day, Grandparents Day, etc. The wonders of free enterprise!

  • The cake is a lie, Jacob, so the pie probably is as well 😉

  • Since Mothering Sunday was about returning to the parish where your parents (very probably, in those days) were still living or were buried, it always had a family aspect to it: visiting your mother was naturally part of it while she was still alive and visiting her grave was naturally part of it thereafter. So I think the UK practice of combining the two is wholly sensible.

  • So I think the UK practice of combining the two is wholly sensible.

    Oh absolutely, visiting my mother twice in one year would be quite beyond the pale…

  • Phil B

    If you check the calendar, you will also see that it is nine months after Fathers day. Coincidence or not? I’m just pointing it out …

  • Umbriel

    Laird — I too had been ignorant of “Mothering Sunday”, but while the greeting card industry has been a major beneficiary and supporter (along with florists) of American Mother’s Day, its actual creator and popularizer was the early 20th century social activist Anna Jarvis.

    Jarvis was apparently outraged enough by all that “commercialism” that she began to actively campaign against the holiday she created until her health began failing, whereupon Wikipedia claims (citing an NPR piece on her) “People connected with the floral and greeting card industries paid the bills to keep her in [a] sanitarium”.

    Apparently she suffered from hair loss late in life, as my grandfather knew her as a customer of his toupee & wig business. He found her a bit hard to deal with (as many found him).

  • Paul Marks

    However, the day remains an excellent idea – as is Father’s Day.

    “Honour thy father and mother” is good general principle, and a special day to remind us to honour our mother (and one to remind us to honour our father) is a very good idea.

    “But Paul it has been commercialised” – most good things are commercialised, honest trading is honourable.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Some fathers do not deserve to be honoured.

  • Alisa

    Neither do some mothers – so what.

  • the other rob

    My late Mother (who SWMBO describes as “a saint”) always called it Mothering Sunday, rather than Mothers’ Day, as did my Grandmother.

    As a kid, I initially assumed the two to be synonymous but eventually came to understand the difference.

  • For the longest time, I figured that “Mothering Sunday” was just the Brits’ pretentious way of saying “We don’t want to be like America” when it comes to Mothers’ Day. 😳

    Not quite related, but in Finland they celebrate Fathers’ Day in November, six months after Mothers’ Day (which is observed the same time as in America).

  • Helen C

    Isn’t that the day my husband gets to talk to all four kids when he calls to remind them to call me and then later I get a handful of text messages?

    I had never heard of Mothering Sunday either. It’s always a good day when I learn something new.