Whilst the back story to feasting and the celebration of motherhood is interesting, I am not too hung-up on the religious, pagan or commercial origins of our UK day of celebrating motherhood. It is lovely to receive a card with a thoughtful or entertaining message or both! However, I am happy to celebrate my fortune at having been given the opportunity to be a mother and to thank my own mother for being a good role model to me. I am also happy to have any excuse to gather my family around me to enjoy a sociable feast, especially if I am not cooking.
History informs us that food and feasts have been key to human celebration and worship rituals. Focusing on feasts this week I discovered that the first documented evidence from literature of food offerings is a Sumerian myth, from about 3000 BC, in which the god Enki offers the goddess Inanna some butter cakes and beer. However, a more well known example is Homer's work from the 8th century BC in which he describes several feasts in the Iliad and the Odyssey, including the famous Poseidon feast at Pylos.
Furthermore archeological digs have also discovered many examples of the importance of food in these rituals, for example a bronze vessel dating back to the Shang dynasty of 1700-1046 BC in China which depicts worshipers offering their ancestors wine, soup and fresh fruits.
Mothering Sunday goes back to the time of early Christians in England who celebrated a Mothers festival on the fourth Sunday of Lent in honour of Virgin Mary. Some think that the Cybelean festival was adopted by the early church to worship the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ.
In the UK, Mothering Sunday can be traced to the practice in the 1600's when people visited their local church on a Sunday. This was called the Daughter Church. Generally, poorer children left home to become apprentices or servants from the age of ten. Once a year, in the middle of Lent they were permitted by their employers to make a visit to visit family and to attend their Mother Church, where they had been baptised in their hometown. It was also known as Refreshment Sunday because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed enabling families to celebrate with special foods. Therefore, it became a time for family reunions and gradually incorporated a general celebration of mothers.
Mothering Sunday in the UK has more recently also taken on some of the secular traditions of the American's Mother's Day. This originated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis, from West Virginia started campaigning for a holiday to celebrate all mothers after the death of her own mother. President Woodrow Wilson made it an official holiday for the US in 1914 and is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Anna Jarvis was deeply upset about how quickly the commerciality over-took her sentiment.
What could be better than celebrating Mothering Sunday with a family feast. I like to celebrate with my mother who deserves my thanks and appreciation. She and my dad have always been very supportive of me and especially helpful with child care, when the children were young, to support my role as a working mother and doctor. It is also lovely to be shown appreciation by my children. I had a special surprise when my eldest, who lives away at Uni, unexpectedly turned up on the doorstep to join our Mother's day feast.
My husband prepared and cooked us a feast that the Romans would have been proud of.
The Cybelean Roman Festival
Cybele’s spring festival was held in March called the Megalensia. It began on March the 15th with a procession of reed-bearers and a ritual sacrifice for the successful planting of spring crops. This was followed by a week of fasting and then on the 22nd of March a pine tree (the symbol for Attis, who was Cybele's consort in Greek mythology) was brought to Palatine Hill temple . Then, of course, there was a lavish feast. This was followed by the Day of Blood on the 24th of March, representing the castration and death of Attis. The festival ended on the 25th of March with a ritual bathing of Cybele’s image.
So, after delving into the history of food in celebrations I thought I would dig into the history of Mother's Day/Mothering Sunday. I discovered that celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honour of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele.
Rhea, was a Minoan mother earth goddess. The Minoan's were an Aegean Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and other Aegean islands that flourished from approximately 3650 to 1400 BC.
Cybele, was also a mother goddess. She was the only goddess of Phrygia (now part of Turkey) and their state deity. Her cult was adopted and adapted by the Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BC.
In Rome, Cybele was known as Magna Mater (Great Mother). The Roman State adopted and developed a particular form of her cult. Most of the Roman cults however died out when Rome became the centre of Christianity. The Cult of Cybele lasted until the 4th century CE, at which time Christianity dominated the religious landscape and pagan beliefs and rituals gradually became transformed or discarded to suit the new faith.
Our feast to celebrate Mother's Day