Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day?

We got this query on the Writing Advice Forum a few days ago:

Hi there

Please can you settle a dispute!

Is it Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day?

Many thanks

Here’s our response:

Hi Steph

At first glance, you could say either. It would all depend on whether you think it’s a day for mothers (making it Mothers’ Day) or for your mother (making it Mother’s Day).

And in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that that apostrophe is redundant altogether after a quick glance at the shelves of many High Street retailers. (Don’t get me started.)

But there’s more to this one than meets the eye.

In Britain, the Mothering Sunday festival began as a day when apprentices and servants could return home to visit their mothers. That started in the 17th century, with Mothering Sunday being the fourth Sunday in Lent.

However, by the 19th century, it seems the festival had all but died out. It was revived during the Second World War, when American servicemen brought over their tradition of Mother’s/Mothers’ Day. Card manufacturers spotted a sales opportunity, the idea took off and we’ve been celebrating it ever since.

So essentially, if we’re going to call it Mother’s/Mothers’ Day, then we need to see what they call it in the US.

And there, it’s definitely Mother’s Day, as established by presidential proclamation 85 years ago.

(By now, I imagine you’re starting to wish you’d never asked.)

So that settles it, right? Well, no actually. The trouble is, the American Mother’s Day is on the second Sunday in May. (In the UK this year, it’s 22 March, as we’re still following the fourth Sunday in Lent rule.) So, pedantically speaking, what we’re celebrating is actually Mothering Sunday still.

We’ve searched in vain for signs of the UK Government making a Mother’s/Mothers’/Mothering Sunday proclamation. So we’re going to stick our necks out and make an Emphasis proclamation instead.

And that is that the day is dedicated to all mothers, not just one. So despite what the Americans have gone for, we think it should be:

Mothers’ Day.

I hope that’s what you had your money on!

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