Sunday, 2 March 2008

From mothering Sunday to Maréchal Pétain

It's Mothering Sunday in Britain, an old celebration that goes back to a tradition of going back to the mother church on the fourth Sunday in Lent. That Sunday was often given as a day's holiday to those in service to spend time with their families and their mothers in their mother parish.
When I was a child we would receive flowers in church to give to our mothers (and other women in the congregation) on mothering Sunday. I can remember feeling moved to see my mother getting flowers to give to her own mother. My maternal grandmother spent a large part of her childhood in an orphanage run along very strict Victorian lines. Mothering Sunday was one of the few days she was allowed to actually see her own mother, it was an important day for her.
Mothering Sunday does not have the same history as the mother's day celebrated in France or the USA. It was Maréchal Pétain in 1941 who finally systematised mother's day in France as the last Sunday in May - except when Pentecost falls then in which case it moves to June. Confusingly mother's day in Switzerland just over the border is about 14 days earlier - following the US date for the most part as far as I can tell.
I've just realised in preparing this post that mothering Sunday was also the first time I heard a woman preach - my mother. I must have been about 8 at the time and I had left for junior church by the time she preached the actual sermon but I can still remember her children's address. All about the word Mum being a palindrome - well she was an English teacher at the time. I'm pleased to have remembered that.
Mothering Sunday has memories for me of women supporting one another and being celebrated and supported by the wider community as well - but maybe this is just feminist reinterpretation of the past. Perhaps I'm just rememebering those strong women sitting around me in the non-conformist chapel, their amazing life stories.
I like the idea that this Sunday can also be called refreshment Sunday, a time when Lenten obligations could relax a little before the final three weeks up to Easter. A time for refreshing family relationships and remembering where you come from.