Sweet are the Christmas tidings that begin with Stir-up Sunday

You can almost feel the stirrings of Christmas festivities in the air. And why not, with Stir-Up Sunday less than twenty four hours away! 
Stir-up sundays mark the beginning of christmas (and pudding! ) preparations. Image: ndla
Stir-up Sundays mark the beginning of Christmas (and pudding!) preparations. Image: NDLA

With Halloween and Diwali now tucked away, the next big event of the year is undoubtedly Christmas. Christmas trees and ornaments to be sorted through, gifts to be purchased, and parties that need to be planned. But of course, what Christmas party is complete without some pudding and cake? 

And it’s no ordinary pudding either. Christmas pudding requires weeks of prep, bringing us to a tradition prevalent since the Victorian ages, Stir-Up Sundays! 

The opening words of the Book Of Common Prayer read, ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.’ Thus came about the tradition that brought families together on one day to stir the ever so delicious Christmas puddings and cakes. Stir-up Sundays are typically observed one Sunday before the onset of Advent.

Advent marks the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, therefore affording people five whole weeks to make and mature their puddings, cakes, and other confections. 

British traditions involve families getting together to celebrate stir-up sunday. Image: mathilde langevin - unsplash
British traditions involve families getting together to celebrate Stir-up Sunday. Image: Mathilde Langevin – Unsplash

While Christmas pudding as we know it today is a dried fruit-based dessert, its origin story is slightly different. Frumenty, a Christmas porridge from the Middle Ages is the British dessert’s original savoury ancestor. Over the years, the recipe evolved into a plum pudding and included dried fruits, eggs, breadcrumbs, and beers or spirits to increase its shelf life. However, it was Prince Albert’s love for the delicacy in the 19th century that sealed its fate as a Christmas staple. 

Traditionalists and experimental cooks alike consider Stir-up Sunday as a sentimental nod to Christmas traditions and the beginning of a joyous festive season. Everything from the ingredients to the manner of preparation and even garnish has roots deeply ingrained in religion, making it a symbolic Christmas dessert. 

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The holly garnish on christmas puddings is decorative, representing the crown of thorns worn by jesus. Image: pxfuel
The holly garnish on Christmas puddings is decorative, representing the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. Image: Pxfuel

For starters, the pudding traditionally contains 13 ingredients – one to represent each of Jesus’ disciples and Jesus himself. These ingredients include raisins, currants, suet, brown sugar, breadcrumbs, citron, lemon peel, orange peel, flour, mixed spices, eggs, milk, and brandy. Or another alcohol of your preference. 

What truly rings the special festive bells is the getting together of the entire family to create this dessert to be enjoyed a few weeks later. The Christmas pudding is stirred by each member of the family from East to West (or anticlockwise), to remember the Three Wise Men who travelled to visit Jesus in the Nativity story.

The final cherry, or in this case, holly on the cake represents the crown of thorns borne by Jesus, seeing as holly is toxic and only the decorative kind is used. Another fun tradition is the addition of coins or other keepsakes like rings to the pudding. For a lucky few, the finding of these on Christmas Day is believed to bring them luck, wealth, marriage prospects, etc. The final day may also occasionally witness the burning of brandy around the pudding, symbolic of the Passion of Christ. However, remember to burn the brandy at the bottom of the pudding and not all your hard work itself!

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The final christmas pudding is doused in brandy and lit at the bottom, creating a delicious sauce. Image: matt seymour: unsplash
The final Christmas pudding is doused in brandy and lit at the bottom, creating a delicious sauce. Image: Matt Seymour: Unsplash

For the Christmas puddings, or make and mature cakes, it is the spices used that sets it apart. Typically, a mixed spice and a blend of allspice, cinnamon, and cloves are used. These warming, aromatic spices go well with fruit without hampering the flavour.

Making the pudding on Stir-up Sunday is just part of one of an intricate job though. The final outcome is only to be served on Christmas once the pudding has been fed with 1-2 tbsps of alcohol every week or fortnight, allowing the potent flavours to soak in without making the cake too soggy. For those looking to avoid alcohol, there’s always earl grey and other fruit flavoured alternatives. 

A pro-tip for anyone looking to cash in on this Stir-up Sunday is to soak your fruits in alcohol overnight. The most commonly used alcohol for these creations are whisky, rum, and brandy, however the latest trends have pitched gin as a worthy contender as well. 

So all that’s left to do is turn up the Christmas playlist, get the mulled wine going, and gather the family for a new (and old) tradition bound to turn your Sunday around! 

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