Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent. In the past a bunch of violets or other small posies were the traditional gifts and children away from home, especially
daughters in domestic service, who normally returned to their family for this
day. It has no connection with the Hallmarkian, Americanized jamboree of
that name. Today children give presents, flowers, and homemade cards to their
mothers with little or no thought to the ancient tradition. Personally I do not
need a special day to remember my own Mother, because March 25th is her
birthday. That is my Mothers Day.It only takes a word overheard or some ones gesture, as I go about my daily duties, to remind me of both my departed parents.
Mid-Lent Sunday as it is also known, commemorated the banquet given by Joseph to his brethren and also the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the story of which forms the gospel for the day. For this reason simnel cakes, rich fruit cakes often covered with marzipan, were eaten on Mothering Sunday, a tradition that persists today.
Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worshipped at their nearest parish or “daughter church”. Centuries ago it was considered important for people to return to their home or “mother” church once a year. So in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their “mother” church, or the main church or Cathedral of the area. It was the return to the “Mother” church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their mother and family. (It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.) As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.
With such a richness of strong and vital images of motherhood, we have much to celebrate on Mother’s Day! However it is nt just our birth mothers we are celebrating but also, Mother Nature, who sustains us in life and to whom we all eventually returns.
Thanksgiving to Mother has ties to ancient pagan ritual. Prehistoric artifacts bare proof of this. The earliest recorded festival in history honoured the Egyptian goddess Nut. She was goddess of the sky and wife of Re, the god of the sun and creator of all, and was known for her incredible beauty and kindness. Her generous and loving nature was apparently extensive, leading her into affairs with Geb, the god of the earth, and Thoth, the god of divine words. Re found out and, understandably, was furious with her, issuing a curse that his pregnant wife would not give birth to the child within her in any month of any year! Filled with sorrow that she would never be a mother, Nut turned to Thoth for comfort. Like most males, he couldn’t stand to see a woman cry and promised to find a solution. Using his divine powers of persuasion, Thoth talked the Moon into gambling with him. If he won he would get just a little bit of the Moon’s light. The games went on for months, and at the end Thoth had won enough light to create five complete days. Nut didn’t waste a precious moment of those five days. She gave birth to a different child on each day. From that day forward she was called “Mother of the Gods”. Her firstborn, Osiris, was the son of Re and went on to become the god of all the earth. The Great Goddess Isis, daughter of Thoth, was born on the third day. Later as husband and wife they ruled together, creating the first great nation of Western civilization during the “Golden Age of Egypt”
Another Mother figure, Eostre, a Saxon deity, marked not only the passage of time but also symbolised new life and fertility. We remember her at the timing of the vernal equinox, also known as Ostara. Legend has it that the goddess was saved by a bird whose wings had become frozen by the cold of winter. This process turned the bird into a hare that could also lay eggs!
As usual the church borrowed these pagan symbols for Easter, so the egg and bunny became additional symbols for fertility and the resurrection of life.