Irish History: Volume VIII
Springtime Traditions, Part 3
If you have any friends from Ireland on social media, you may have noticed something odd over the years: they wish their mom a Happy Mother’s Day over a month before you’ve even started thinking about it! In the United States, Mother’s Day (just a reminder: it’s May 9th this year) is the first Sunday in May and has been a national holiday since 1914. The US creator, Anna Jarvis, argued that a holiday was needed to highlight women’s achievements, particularly all the sacrifices mothers make for their children. (Though, she would later go on to criticize the commercialization of the holiday, upset over what she saw as a private time of spiritual reflection becoming another marketing opportunity.)
But where did Anna get this idea? While springtime celebrations of mothers and motherhood have been occurring in a variety of forms as long as humans have existed (one could even count Imbolc as one of these early traditions,) the origin is more closely linked to the early-Christian tradition of “Mothering Sunday.” Celebrated on the fourth Sunday during Lent (which moves just as Easter does,) the first incarnation of the holiday only included moms as a secondary aspect of the celebrations.
Originally, Mothering Sunday was created to bring families together spiritually during the Lenten season. It was common in the Middle Ages for children to not reside at home, but rather go out to work as servants or farmhands. Mothering Sunday was one of the few times the families would be reunited, as everyone was let off of work to return home to their mother churches to make donations. It’s said that the children would pick the early spring flowers for their mothers on their way home, and voila! A day celebrating not only their mother church, but actual mothers, eventually became the norm! While this technically isn’t a national holiday in Ireland, the secular version experienced a resurgence after WWII, rolling off the swell of support the holiday had by Irish immigrants in America.
One of the most long-lasting traditions in Ireland is that of food on Mother’s Day. While Americans love a big breakfast in bed or a brunch, the Irish are particularly fond of a Simnel Cake. Simnel Cakes are a kind of spring fruitcake, or even an extra-sweet and denser version of Ireland’s favorite springtime treat: hot cross buns! While Simnel Cakes can have many variety and regional variations, one ingredient links them all together: marzipan. A treat more popular in Europe than the US, marzipan is a combination of almond flour, powdered sugar, and egg white that becomes a moldable paste that’s usually layered within the cake, as well as on top. While Simnel Cakes (and their marzipan) may be flavored with anything that sounds appetizing, it’s the 11 marzipan balls on the top of the cake (to represent the 11 loyal disciples) that make it “Simnel.”
This year, Ireland celebrated Mothering Sunday on March 14th—but what did it looks like? Turns out modern Irish Mother’s Day looks a lot like modern American Mother’s Day: flowers and gifts and homemade cards for mom, making her a meal (or a Simnel Cake) or bringing her to her favorite restaurant, maybe a trip to the park or the movies or church, and all kids and dads (and pets!) on their best behavior, taking over all of the chores mom usually completes. Most moms (or, at least if you ask mine,) are more interested in the appreciation (and hopefully break from their never-ending responsibilities!) than the commercial part. I’m sure Anna Jarvis would be happy to know this, but, still, who doesn’t like a present? We’ve gathered together a few of the most original gift guides we could find for you, just in case you’re not sure how to show a mom in your life how much you appreciate all she’s done and continues you do. Check out these suggestions:
1. Uncommon Goods Mother’s Day Gift Suggestions
2. Good Housekeeping: Unique & Heartfelt Mother’s Day Gift Guide
3. Business Insider’s Funny & Inexpensive Mother’s Day Gifts
4. Buzzfeed’s Gifts to Make Mom LOL
5. The Little Market’s Sustainable and Ethical Mother’s Day Gift Guide
So, a little early to be sure, but, Happy Mother’s Day to all our amazing SRL moms! And we mean all of you: traditional moms, adopted moms, step-moms, mother-figures, pet moms, moms we miss a little extra today, and all the grandparents and fathers and aunts and uncles who have stepped in and are amazing moms to our dancers! We appreciate you, your kids appreciate you (even if it doesn’t always seem like it,) and we hope you take a moment today (even if it’s not our Mother’s Day) to appreciate yourself and all you do!
This post is part of a series. Read all about the (confusing) history of Easter and Irish Easter traditions here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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