The Sunday a month before Christmas might not hold much significance for most of us, but Stir Up Sunday is a tradition dating back to Queen Victoria (who was introduced to it by her husband Prince Albert). It’s when English families start to make their Christmas pudding – the traditional end to a Christmas dinner – allowing it several weeks for the flavour to develop and mature in time for Christmas day.
So what is Stir-up Sunday?
Stir-up Sunday takes place on the last Sunday before advent (this year it falls on November 23rd) and is inspired by the lines in the Book of Common Prayer from 1549: ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works’. Children on their way home from church were often heard reciting an adapted version reflecting how excited they were about their afternoon’s baking: ‘Stir up and beseech thee, the pudding in the pot; And when we get home we’ll eat the lot.’
The Christmas pudding needs to be prepared several weeks in advance, so that the spices can mellow, the fruits can become softer and the brandy can be properly absorbed into the mixture for a rich, full flavour. The whole family takes part in the baking process, with each person taking it in turns to stir the Christmas pudding mixture for luck, making their own wish while they do so. The mixture is always stirred from east to west, a reference to the Three Wise Men who travelled to visit the baby Jesus. The recipe is also meant to contain 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and the 12 disciples.
Christmas Pudding on Stir-up Sunday
The Christmas pudding dates back to the 14th century, when it was a type of porridge called ‘frumenty’ and far-removed from the kind we eat today. The original version was primarily made of beef and mutton with added prunes, wine and spices and was seen as a type of ‘fasting meal’ in the lead up to the Christmas festivities. It later changed into a more indulgent ‘plum‘ pudding (a misleading name as ‘plum’ was a Victorian word for raisin), thickened up with eggs, breadcrumbs and dried fruit. It was banned by the Puritans in 1664, but thankfully was brought back by King George I in 1714 who helped re-establish it as a staple of family Christmas dinner.
Other Christmas pudding traditions include hiding trinkets in the mixture. As legend has it, the person who finds a sixpence in their serving (hopefully without choking on it!) will apparently die rich, the one who finds a thimble would never marry (maybe leave this one out if you don’t want to put a damper on things) while finding a ring means you will be married within the year (the rule is to have only one ring per pudding sadly…!).
So Sunday 23 November, why not get your baking equipment at the ready, invite the whole family into the kitchen and have your very own Stir Up Sunday – and a delicious pudding come Christmas day to show for it!