Melanie McDonagh

The mystery of Mothering Sunday

The mystery of Mothering Sunday
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Among the treats the mothers of Britain can look forward to on Mothering Sunday there are some rum offerings. A company called Nosh Detox is offering a hamper including something called a Nux Vom drink, and the Guardian has helpfully drawn up a list of mother-related films you only take your mother to if you want to terminate the relationship. Meanwhile, the profile of the mother as depicted in the gift sections of M&S and Waitrose is that of a woman with a penchant for anything pink, who loves imported roses and has a thing about prosecco. Her day is made if you take her out to tea. I quite like prosecco, I suppose, but my own tastes run to burgundy, daffodils, Hotel Chocolat supermilk and handmade cards. My own mother is grateful for anything. But really, the notion of being petted just by dint of being a mother still feels a bit weird.

The social historian, Ronald Hutton, says that there was no such thing as Mothering Sunday until the seventeenth century, and certainly the priggish point, that it appears to have been the feast of your home parish church, your mother church, rather than a feast of mothers per se, is fair enough. It was, says Nick Groom, in his book on The Seasons, the occasion when maids returned to their home parishes and visited their mothers with Simnel cake. Then, obviously, it got hijacked by the Americans in 1907 when one Anna Jarvis set it up as a women’s thing, and then Hallmark took it over.

But the mystery is why we still celebrate women’s fecundity, Roman style, when there are so many people whose noses may be put out of joint by us doing so…men, obviously (Father’s Day doesn’t really cut it, except as an occasion for stereotypical presents such as drills) and women who would like to be mothers and can’t or who dislike their own mothers or the transgender individuals for whom it is all a bit excluding. There was a rather promising backlash in the Telegraph yesterday by a woman who pointed out how very hurtful it all was for women who were infertile or had had miscarriages, a bit like Valentine’s Day excluding people who aren’t in couples. Really, the remarkable thing is how resilient Mother’s Day is to the contemporary cult of inclusivity.

But for those who feel offended by the whole concept, we do have International Women’s Day coming up, an occasion for celebrating womanhood as a whole. In former Communist countries I gather it was a cross between Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day when women would get taken out to dinner and be presented with flowers. It’s not quite how it’s done here. I decline to share the IWD festivities myself, on the basis that I prefer to celebrate the Brotherhood of Man, but each to her own.

Actually, I suppose Mother’s Day is inclusive in that all of us have, or have had mothers. Or at least we used to once. Whether surrogates and egg donors get cards on the day is up to Hallmark. I’d love to know how David Furnish and Elton John play it.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

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