2019 Grateful 41: Mothering Sunday

Today is Mother’s Day. Despite Farmers Market having achieved apostrophe-free status in recent years, Mother’s Day will never be free of it, because

the original campaigner for creating Mother’s day, Anna Jarvis, explicitly wanted an apostrophe, and she wanted it to be before the “s”: … it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.

On 10 May, 1908, Jarvis held a service to commemorate her mother who had died three years previously. She wanted a day that would celebrate her mother and for everyone else to celebrate theirs. She campaigned against much derision from male senators and in 1914, US Congress made the day an official holiday in the USA. The profitmakers soon saw an opportunity to capitalise on sentiment and from the 1920s, Jarvis fought them, calling them

charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.

Driving to the market this morning (I love sunny Sundays in the village), the inimitable JFW, a bottomless font of trivia, said in passing that today is actually Mothering Sunday, a religious holiday in the UK and Ireland, where people once returned home to visit their mother church (and presumably stopped in to see their mother mother, too). It must have been a Protestant thing, I said. I’ve never heard of Mother’s Day being religious – and I practice this, a lot. He assured me not. And he was right. It’s a Christian thing. And it’s always the fourth Sunday of Lent. The things you learn, eh?

Depending on what source you consider, the Mother Church is the main cathedral in the diocese; parish churches are considered daughter churches. Others have it that the mother church could be the one in which you were baptised, the parish church, or the nearest cathedral. Who knew? And from what I’ve read, it’s thought that this sixteenth-century practice of returning to the Mother Church once a year led to domestic servants getting a free half-day to visit their family. Back then, I suppose, most were in service locally and wouldn’t have had that far to travel.

And while mothers in Ireland and the UK today are enjoying the attention, the retailers are laughing all the way to the bank. Last year, the UK spend on Mothering Sunday was estimated at £600 million. In the USA, some $813 million was spent on cards alone. Mad money, Poor Jarvis must be turning in her grave.

I’m happier knowing that Mothering Sunday originally had little to do with mothers and that the commercialisation of Mother’s Day disgusted its founder. I’ve always been slightly peeved that those who’ve never had kids (either by choice or circumstance) don’t have their official day, too. But anyway, with a nod of gratitude to mothers everywhere, including my own, here’s one from Irish poet Lola Ridge (1873-1941),


Your love was like moonlight
turning harsh things to beauty,
so that little wry souls
reflecting each other obliquely
as in cracked mirrors . . .
beheld in your luminous spirit
their own reflection,
transfigured as in a shining stream,
and loved you for what they are not.

You are less an image in my mind
than a luster
I see you in gleams
pale as star-light on a gray wall . . .
evanescent as the reflection of a white swan
shimmering in broken water.



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