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Category: Holidays

Did you know that January 1 wasn’t always January 1? The grandparents and parents of our Regency heroes and heroines would have known a year when January 1 followed March 24. What’s more, that year they would lose a whole eleven days that September.

Until 1752 Britain and the British Empire, including the American colonies, still followed the Julian Calendar, established in the time of Julius Caesar, which made the year 365 days long and used leap years, but the calendar had an error that made the Spring equinox drift from its date of March 21. Two hundred years earlier, though, astronomers convinced Pope Gregory to change to a calendar based on the  solar calendar that kept the equinox on March 21, important, because that was how they calculated when Easter would be.

Most of the Catholic countries adopted this Gregorian calendar in the 1500s, but Britain refused to switch to that “papist” system. You can imagine how confusing using two different calendars could be to travelers and traders.

And how disruptive changing the calendar would be to birthdays, festival days, paydays, dated contracts–any number of things.

In 1752 in Britain, March 25 became January 1, the start of a new year. But more adjustment was necessary to bring things in line with the Gregorian calendar, so Wednesday September 2, 1752, was followed by Thursday September 14, 1752, “losing” eleven days.

In 1752 William Willett of Endon bet that he could dance non-stop for twelve days. He started dancing on September 2, danced all night and stopped the next day–Sept 14. Twelve days! He won the bet.

The Whigs, who were more progressive and were convinced by the science of why the change was needed, supported the change. The conservative Tories were opposed and protested under the slogan, “Give Us Our Eleven Days.”

In 1755 Hogarth released a satirical print called An Election Entertainment depicting a tavern scene with some bawdy Whigs celebrating while Tories outside protested, “Give us our eleven days.” Apparently, though, citizens did not really riot in the streets believing they’d lost eleven days, as many believe. Hogarth’s print is thought to have contributed to this idea. 

If you’d like to learn more about the differences in the Gregorian and Julian calendars, here’s the Wikipedia link.

Mothering-Sunday-BannerIf you assumed that the British holiday of “Mothering Sunday” (this coming Sunday) is the equivalent of the American “Mother’s Day”, only celebrated two months sooner, you’d be making a historical mistake that even lots of Brits make. While it may be mostly true today, that was not always so. Mothering Sunday as observed in Regency times, and centuries before, sprang from both religious and more practical concerns. Did it still have anything to do with honoring mothers? If it didn’t, where does the name come from? Read on, my friends.

Mothering Sunday is always celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent. That should tell you it’s rooted in Christian tradition, unlike the secular American holiday. Depending on what sources you consult, some claim the early Christians co-opted the Roman celebration in March that honored mothers and the Mother Goddess Cybele, and in its place established Mothering Sunday to be a time of devotion to Mother Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ. Madonna by memling4 priestess_cybele

The timing worked well. Early Christians were no dummies, and giving everyone a little break in the middle of the long 40-day fast of Lent no doubt increased the chances that people would stick with the disciplines expected of them. In some places, this mid-Lent Sunday was called “Refreshment Sunday”, or “Sunday of the Five Loaves”.

But as with anything that old, there are multiple roots entwined with these beginnings, and very little documentation. This particular Sunday was also known as Laetare Sunday in the pre-Reformation times. As Christianity and the proliferation of churches spread during the medieval period, the distinction was made between smaller parish churches (known as “daughter” churches) and the major cathedrals in each diocese (the “mother” churches). Important sacraments, such as baptisms, were done at the “mother” churches, presided over by bishops, rather than the local parish priest. On Laetare or Mothering Sunday, families were expected to gather together to make the pilgrimage to their “mother’ church to honor Mary and their own baptisms.

Mothering Sunday-Victorian Church

Victorian children bring flowers to church to honor the Virgin Mary.

Since most children were put to work by the age of ten, many lived away from home, serving as apprentices or learning to be domestic servants. A half-day holiday was often not long enough for them to be able to return home, so once a year, on Mothering Sunday, they would be given a full day holiday to visit their families and go to their “mother” churches. That they might pick flowers on the way and perhaps bring small gifts to their mothers is easy enough to believe. Mothering_Sunday2

The first known dated written reference to Mothering Sunday is from 1644, when a royal officer from Essex was visiting Worcester and reported that “…all the children and godchildren meet at the head and chief of the family and have a feast.”

Special foods like simnel cake became associated with Mothering Sunday. (In some places it was called Simnel Sunday!) Kind of like the holiday itself, simnel cake is a mixture of things, part fruitcake and part pastry, both boiled like a pudding and baked like a cake. It may have a hard outer crust, and may be coated and decorated with almond paste (11 marzipan balls represent the Apostles minus Judas). Simnel Cake-classic  An early reference to it being brought as a gift for “mothering” also dates from the early 17th century. It was usually served with “braggot” (hot spiced ale) or “frumenty” (a spiced drink made from boiled wheat), depending on location.

Simnel Cake-pc

After the Reformation, and increasingly up to the Regency period, the emphasis for Mothering Sunday focused far less on the church-going and far more on the day for apprentices and servants to be given time off to visit their families. Imagine how important that day would have been to them, if they could only see their families once a year!

The observation of the holiday declined during the later 19th and early 20th centuries as other kinds of employment became more common. Mothering Sunday had about died out by WWI. But the United States had created Mother’s Day in 1913, and other countries adopted the idea.

Christopher Howse, writing for The Telegraph (2013), says “the revival of Mothering Sunday must be attributed to Constance Smith (1878-1938), and she was inspired in 1913 by reading a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis’s campaign in America. …Under the pen-name C. Penswick Smith she published a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920.” Smith did not want the day to be connected to any one Christian denomination and pushed the revival through secular organizations such as scout groups. Howse adds, ‘“By 1938,’ wrote Cordelia Moyse, the modern historian of the Mothers’ Union, ‘it was claimed that Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire.’” Transformed into a modern holiday! Has it become less meaningful?

Do you live near your parents? How often are you able to visit your family? Do you believe “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or would you stay close if you could? Did you already know this history of Mothering Sunday?

 Do you read holiday romances? I do. I read them, and re-read them when the season comes around, and keep adding them to my collection. Addicted much? I admit it. But I have questions for you.

1) Since these stories often center around Christmas activities, do you read them even if you are not of the Christian faith?

2) Does the historical context of the period make the “religious” parts of these stories, if there is some, acceptable if you don’t like “inspirational” romances?

3) Do you read them at any other time of year??

You may wonder why I am asking all these questions! I have been working on my first “holiday romance” –a Regency set in the countryside over the 12 days of Christmastide, starting on Christmas Eve day and ending on Twelfth Night. But my major medical issues and those of my husband are interfering with my ability to get it done when I had hoped, and I am considering releasing it AFTER Christmas. So here’s my biggest question:

would you buy a holiday romance after the holidays?

Book sales usually decline during December, when folks are too busy, and they tend to pick up afterwards –I guess people have time to read again once they get through the press of getting ready and celebrating!! But I would love to know if you think it would be lame to release a holiday story after Christmas, say for Twelfth Night (January 6) instead?

LOL, that’s if I can even make that deadline. But I’m considering it. My poor characters really want their story to get out there, and not have to wait until next year!! I would love to know what you think.

THE LORD OF MISRULE: On a snowy Christmas Eve day, a vicar’s daughter runs into the Devil himself, or is he just the Lord of Misrule? In a season of miracles and magic, can love bind two unlikely hearts in the days leading to Twelfth Night?


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