Simnel cake

Simnel cake (Photo credit: jeremytarling)

For many people, the Sunday just past will have be marked as Mothering Sunday. Traditionally it was a point in the year when roads had become passable at the end of winter and farm servants were given the day off to visit their mothers, perhaps taking small gifts of flowers or simnel cake.

An older name for this middle Sunday of Lent is Refreshment Sunday – a day of relaxation from the disciplines of Lent (hence the cake). I suppose it’s a bit like walking up a hill and reaching the halfway point – time to sit down, catch your breath, look back to see how far you’ve come and refuel for the final ascent (possibly with the aid of as slice of cake, although not, obviously, cake intended as a gift for your mother).

Lent must be a classic case of making a virtue out of necessity. In the Northern hemisphere, this last bit of winter was when you had to make last season’s dried and preserved foods keep you going until the start of the new agricultural year must; a time when short days and impassable roads limited travel and physical activity; a time of repair, restoration and preparation. So it obviously made some sort of sense to turn this annual downtime into a period of time of spiritual repair and restoration in preparation for Easter. Quite a neat idea, if you think about it.