Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Mothers' Day Carol

Today is Mid-Lent Sunday or Laetare Sunday or 'Refreshment Sunday', the day when Lenten discipline is relaxed a little. In England it's also Mothering Sunday (for the history of which, see here), and the Oxford Book of Carols includes a sweet little modern carol in honour of this (semi-)medieval tradition, 'It is the day of all the year'.

Various places on the internet will tell you this is a medieval carol, but it's not - it was written by George Hare Leonard, a writer and historian, in the first part of the twentieth century. It's a nice bit of medieval revivalism, and it is sung to a medieval tune - that of the fifteenth-century German carol, 'Ich weiss ein lieblich Engelspiel' ('I know a lovely angel-game'), which you can hear here (at 2:48):

(If you're like me, you can't hear the name of that carol without thinking of the Chalet School's Christmas plays and Joey Bettany's 'golden voice' reducing everyone to tears...)

The Oxford Book of Carols editors have this mouth-watering note:

"'He who goes a-mothering finds violets in the lane' [this is a proverb]. In many parts of the country it was the custom for the children of the family who had left the old home to come back to visit their Mother on the 4th Sunday in Lent (Mid-Lent Sunday). The eldest son would bring a wheaten cake - in modern times a plum cake with an icing of sugar, or a simnel-cake. Sometimes cinnamon comfits ("lambs'-tails") or little white sugar-plums with a carraway seed, or some morsel of spice within - such as may still be found at country fairs - were brought for an offering. One of the children home for the day would stay in and mind the house, so that the mother should be free for once to attend morning service at the church."

Perhaps we could also name today Sugar-Plum Sunday.

It is the day of all the year,
Of all the year the one day,
When I shall see my mother dear
And bring her cheer,
A-mothering on Sunday.

So I'll put on my Sunday coat,
And in my hat a feather,
And get the lines I writ by rote,
With many a note,
That I've a-strung together.

And now to fetch my wheaten cake
To fetch it from the baker,
He promised me, for mother's sake,
The best he'd bake
For me to fetch and take her.

Well have I known, as I went by
One hollow lane, that none day
I'd fail to find - for all they're shy -
Where violets lie,
As I went home on Sunday.

My sister Jane is waiting-maid
Along with Squire's lady;
And year by year her part she's played
And home she stayed
To get the dinner ready.

For mother’ll come to Church you'll see-
Of all the year it's the day-
'The one,' she'll say, 'that's made for me'
And so it be:
It's every Mother's free day.

The boys will all come home from town
Not one will miss that one day;
And every maid will bustle down
To show her gown,
A-mothering on Sunday.

It is the day of all the year,
Of all the year the one day;
And here come I, my mother dear,
And bring you cheer,
A-mothering on Sunday.

1 comment:

Priscilla said...

Lovely! I pulled out my book and sang through that one :-)