Stir-Up Sunday

by Ellen Castelow

The last Sunday before Advent is ‘Stir-up Sunday’, the day when traditionally families gather together to prepare the Christmas pudding. This year that will be Sunday 25th November 2018.

The day does not actually get its name from ‘stirring the pudding’: it gets its name from the Book of Common Prayer. The Collect of the Day for the last Sunday before Advent starts, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. However since Victorian times it has become associated with the rather lovely family custom of preparing for Christmas together by making the Christmas pudding, an essential part of most British Christmas dinners.

The Christmas pudding as we know it is said to have been introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, however it is thought that a version of the pudding was actually introduced from Germany by George I ( sometimes known as the ‘pudding king’) in 1714.

Victorian Christmas

Usually the pudding is prepared well in advance (5 weeks before Christmas) and then reheated (and lit!) on Christmas Day itself.

Most puddings will contain some of the following ingredients: dried fruit, prunes and dates (often soaked in brandy), candied peel, mixed spice, treacle, suet, eggs, breadcrumbs and dark brown sugar. Traditionally there would be 13 ingredients in all, to represent Jesus and his disciples. Most families have a favourite recipe or follow one handed down over the generations. Sometimes silver coins are added to the mixture; anyone who finds one when eating the pudding is said to receive health, wealth and happiness in the coming year. Unfortunately it has been known for the discovery of a coin in the pudding to result in a broken tooth – not quite so lucky in this case!

On Stir-Up Sunday, families gather together to mix the pudding. Each member of the family takes a turn in stirring the mixture whilst making a wish. The pudding should be stirred from east to west, in honour of the Magi (Wise Men) who came from the east to visit the baby Jesus. It’s also a good excuse to enjoy a wee dram or a cup of festive mulled wine!

Nativity scene

On Christmas Day the pudding has its own ritual. It is topped with a sprig of holly (plastic holly is best as holly berries are poisonous) to represent Jesus’ crown of thorns. A little warm brandy is then poured over it and lit – with care, as many an eyebrow has fallen victim to an over-enthusiastic dousing of the pudding in alcohol! It is then carried proudly, alight and flaming, to the table to be served with brandy butter and cream or lashings of hot custard.

Christmas pudding

Indeed, even Charles Dickens mentions this festive ritual in his novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’:

“Mrs Cratchit left the room alone – too nervous to bear witnesses – to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

Sadly, the tradition of Stir-Up Sunday is dying out, as nowadays most Christmas puddings are shop-bought. If however you do decide to take part, next year the date will be 24th November and in 2020, 22nd November.

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