Why do we celebrate Mother’s Day – and where does the tradition come from?

Psssst… it’s on Sunday 14 March!
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  • There’s no greater friend or support than a mother. From raising us as kids to sticking by us as moody teenagers and being the occasional shoulder to cry on – they’ve always had our backs – which is often why we celebrate Mother’s Day every year in the UK.

    Though the traditional day started several centuries ago it has remained an important date in the calendar and has today evolved to include the custom shop-bought or handmade Mother’s Day card and flowers or generous Mothering Sunday gifts.

    Whilst Sunday 14 March is set to be a different Mother’s Day this year amidst the current UK lockdown  – there are still ways you can show your love.

    To prepare you and perhaps inspire some Mother’s Day ideas ahead of the event, we share some fascinating facts on how the holiday began.

    Why do we celebrate Mother’s Day?

    Research into Mother’s Day celebrations reveals that commemorating motherhood goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In their spring festival, they celebrated the goddess Rhea, considered the Mother of the Gods. Rhea was closely associated with another mother goddess, Cybele, whom the Romans honoured.

    Since at least the 16th century, Mothering Sunday has featured in the UK Christian calendar. Originally it wasn’t a celebration of motherhood, but a time during Lent when people returned to their mother church – the main church – for a special service. This is why Mother’s Day falls annually on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

    The tradition of gifting came from families reuniting at this Mothering Sunday service too. Children would pick flowers on route to church and gift bouquets to their mothers. Hence why flowers are still considered the go-to gift for Mother’s Day today. 

    Senior woman and her daughter gifting her flowers on Mother's Day.

    Credit: Getty

    In Medieval times, apprentices and servants would be given Mothering Sunday off to return home to their mothers too. They would take a special Mother’s Day cake known as a Simnel cake. This was a rich fruit mixture with layers of almond paste in the middle and on top, and decorated with 11 marzipan balls to represent the apostles of Jesus – minus Judas Iscariot.

    Mother’s Day celebrations declined in popularity in the 1900s but was rejuvenated by the efforts of an American woman named Anna Jarvis in the 20th Century. Jarvis’s lobbying of President Woodrow Wilson resulted in Mother’s Day becoming an official American holiday in 1914. 

    Moved by Ms Jarvis efforts, an English woman named Constance Penswick Smith worked to establish the UK’s Mothering Sunday Movement. Her campaigning was aided by the Second World War, where soldiers paid thanks to their mothers from afar. Since the 1950s, Mothering Sunday has been a permanent fixture in the UK calendar.

    How do we celebrate Mother’s Day now?

    These days, it’s less about Simnel cakes and more about sentiments! We spend a staggering £73 million each year on Mother’s Day and Brits send more cards per person than any other nation, according to Amanda Fergusson from the Greeting Card Association.

    We also love giving flowers – two bouquets will be delivered every second across the UK on Mother’s Day, according to Inteflora. That’s 15 times more than an ordinary day. While pink flowers are a favourite, vibrant colours are increasingly popular. Our top five picks are carnations, roses, sunflowers, gerberas and tulips.

    Girl hiding a mother's day greeting card for her mother behind back

    Credit: Getty

    Brits enjoy raising more than just a glass to their much-loved mums on the day too. Alcohol sales have seen a spike around Mother’s Day in recent years with Gin skyrocketing in popularity. Mother’s Day gifting data reveals that sales of the aptly nicknamed ‘Mother’s Ruin’ increased by 21% in 2018.

    2020 saw a shift to online present purchasing as people remained home during the pandemic. According to last year’s market research, the percentage of shoppers buying Mother’s Day gifts online grew by 3.6%. With the UK still under lockdown, this percentage is expected to grow again in 2021.