For many, Mother’s Day is a day best not forgotten. However, the annual event falls on a different date every year, making it tough to keep up with.
To make matters more confusing, Mother’s Day is marked on varying days in different countries.
You’re probably aware that it’s also known as Mothering Sunday, but might not be familiar with what that actually means – here’s everything you need to know.
What is Mothering Sunday?
The origins of Mothering Sunday lie in the Middle Ages, when children who had left their families to work in domestic service were allowed to go to their home – or “mother” – church.
So initially, the “mothering” aspect of the occasion had no connection to the way mothers are celebrated today.
However, the journey home inevitably became an occasion for families to reunite, with the custom developing for children to pick flowers en route to give as a gift to their mothers.
The date took on a further celebratory air because it was traditionally an occasion for the fasting rules of Lent to be relaxed, allowing revellers a long-awaited feast.
Consequently, it also became known as Refreshment Sunday, Simnel Sunday (after the simnel cakes traditionally baked in celebration) and, most evocatively of all (and possibly only in Surrey): Pudding Pie Sunday.
The fact most people refer to the date as “Mother’s Day” now owes much to the American festival later in the year.
This was created in 1907 by Anna Jarvis, who held a memorial for her mother Ann Jarvis, a peace activist who treated wounded soldiers in the American Civil War.
Her daughter campaigned for a day to honour the role played by mothers following Ann’s death, and the idea gained such traction that by 1911 all US states observed the holiday.
In 1914, it had become so ubiquitous that President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday “as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country”.
Mother’s Day rapidly became a major commercial opportunity, with Hallmark leading the way in manufacturing cards by the early 20s.
Jarvis deeply resented the materialistic side of the holiday that she had created. The commodification of sentimental symbols like the white carnation led her to withering criticism and even to being arrested for protesting against organisations selling Mother’s Day merchandise.
While Mothering Sunday is technically a different celebration to Mother’s Day, the success of the US holiday led to a resurgence in the traditional observance after interest had waned in the early 20th century.
By the 50s, the practices of the Christian festival had broadly merged with the commercial aspects of Mother’s Day, with the moniker gradually overtaking Mothering Sunday and the celebration becoming increasingly secular.
Why is the UK date of Mother’s Day different to the US?
Mothering Sunday is always held on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which means it comes three weeks before Easter Sunday.
However, Mother’s Day is now celebrated around the world, with the majority of countries outside the UK taking their lead from the US practice.
There, the occasion is marked on the second Sunday of May, which falls on 14 May in 2023. Almost 100 countries – including much of Europe, Africa and South America – follow the American system.
Far fewer commemorate the fourth Sunday of Lent, although Nigeria joins the UK and Ireland in marking Mothering Sunday.
Other countries, including Russia, Vietnam and Afghanistan, commemorate mothers on International Women’s Day: 8 March.
Bolivia marks Mother’s Day on 27 May, the date of the Battle of La Coronilla, when women fighting for the country’s independence were slaughtered by the Spanish army in 1812.
Elsewhere, France – and many of its former colonies – celebrate mothers on the last Sunday of May, while Argentina marks “Dia de la Madre” on the third Sunday of October.