March — Mothering Sunday
( Originally Published 1884 )
As a correspondent of yours, vol. liii., p. 578, is desirous amongst other customs of knowing the original of regaling on furmety on what he calls " Mothering Sunday," I have here sent you what has occurred to me towards tracing it out. As to " Mothering Sunday," of which another correspondent, p. 928, confesses his ignorance, and which, indeed, I never heard of before, this, I suppose, may be some Sunday near Christmas, and has reference to the winter solstice, the night of which was called by our ancestors Mother-Night, as they reckoned the beginning of their years from thence. But, be this as it will, I know it is a custom in the northern counties to have furmety, or frumety, as the common people there call it, on Christmas-eve ; however the word be pronounced, it is probably derived from frumentum, wheat.* It is made of what is called in a certain town in Yorkshire "kreed wheat," or whole grains first boiled plump and soft, and then put into and boiled in milk, sweetened and spiced. One of the principal feasts among the northern nations was the Juul, afterwards called Yule, about the shortest day ;t which, as Mr. Mallet observes, bore a great resemblance to the Roman Saturnalia. That this rejoicing on Christmas Eve had its rise from the Juul, and was exchanged for it, is evident from a custom practised in the northern nations more fully to answer this purpose, as on it they ended the old and began the new year. That this rejoicing on Christmas Eve had its rise from the Juul, and was exchanged for it, is evident from a custom practised in the northern nations, of putting a large clog of wood on the fire this evening, which is still called the Yule clog ; the original occasion of it may have been, as the Juul was their greatest festival, to honour it with the best fire. About this, in the rude and simple ages after the change, the whole household, which was quite agreeable to the nature of the old feast, used to sit, stand, or play in a sportive manner, according to the proverb of those times, "All friends round the wrekin."
Now, what gave occasion to this exchange was this : in the degenerate ages, it was the usual method to convert these barbarians, by adapting the Christian religion, as much as possible, to their ancient usages and customs ; and one most prevailing they took for doing it was, by promising them they should be indulged with the same or like feasts in it as what they enjoyed before in Paganism. Hence, for the Juul, they gave them to understand they should enjoy the feast of Christmas, and indulged them with this part of their feast on its eve, which they might think innocent, and would not break in much upon this festival, and agreed with their ancient manner of beginning theirs. However, from that strong attachment the multitudes always have for their ancient customs, many of them for some time afterwards called Christmas Yule; and this seems to have prevailed the longest in the northern countries. In the same manner as the feast of our Lord's Resurrection was substituted for another festival they held in the spring or Easter month, as April was then called, from the easterly winds which prevail at this time, it is called Easter amongst us to this day. But, by the bye, I think it high time this old denomination was laid aside, and the true one restored. It would be much the best to have all our Christian festivals called by their most true, simple, and expressive names, that people of all ranks might hence be more strongly re-minded of what great, glorious, and interesting events they are in-tended to recall into their minds, and so be excited to think more seriously about them, and take comfort from them. We have another instance of this impropriety in Acts xii. 4, where our translators have put Easter for the Passover.
Scrutator observes that " Mothering Sunday " is explained in Bailey's dictionary, 8vo., where it is said that " Mothering is a custom still retained in many places of England of visiting parents on Mid-Lent Sunday; and it seems to be called mothering from the respect in old time paid to the mother-church, it being the custom for people in popish times to visit their mother church on Mid-Lent Sunday, and to make their offerings at the high altar."
A Nottinghamshire correspondent tells us that, when he was a schoolboy, the practice on Christmas Eve was to roast apples on a string till they dropped into a large bowl of spiced ale, which is the whole composition of "Lamb's-wool," and that whilst he was an apprentice, the custom was to visit his mother on Mid-Lent Sunday (thence called Mothering Sunday) for a regale of excellent furmety.