Sunday 25th November is 'Stir-up-Sunday'. This is the day when, traditionally, the family gathers together to stir the Christmas pudding. It's the day when wishes are said to come true so everybody has to have a turn at stirring the pudding whilst making a wish.
Stir-up is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before Advent so it doesn't fall on the same date every year. It gets its name from the beginning of the Collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people". The prayer has nothing to do with cooking but as Christmas puddings need to be made several weeks ahead it serves as a useful reminder. It is likely that the tradition was made popular during the reign of Queen Victoria as Albert was a huge fan of Christmas.
In earlier times the pudding would have contained meat and been eaten at the start of the meal or alongside the meat. The Christmas pudding in its more modern form is a dried fruit-based dessert which would have been wrapped in cloth and boiled. The cloth eventually gave way to basins and moulds, and now we tend to use a basin, which is considerably easier than a cloth.
In the years since the tradition began, keen cooks have not only used the occasion to make Christmas pudding, but other festive goodies using dried fruit too, notably Christmas cake and the mincemeat for mince pies.
According to tradition, the pudding would be stirred from East to West to remember the Wise Men that visited Jesus in the nativity story and it would also contain thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and his disciples.
The customary garnish of holly represented the crown of thorns but, be warned, the holly berry is very toxic, so it would be much safer to decorate your Christmas pud with fake foliage.
Adding silver coins, originally silver charms, to the pudding was said to bring luck if you found them in your portion on Christmas Day. The traditional lucky charms were a silver coin for wealth, a wishbone for luck, a thimble for thrift, a ring for marriage, and an anchor for safe harbour. These days, silver coins have taken over from charms and tend to be inserted just before serving. This is particularly important if you are going to microwave your pudding and don't forget that your guests should be warned to look out for them as you don't want any visits to the emergency dentist on Christmas day!
When I was a child I always the loved the period leading up to Christmas and I remember helping my mother to stir the Christmas pudding and making a wish. I was always very excited when I found a silver sixpence in my serving on Christmas day. It was quite a long time before I realised that the sixpences were not put there by the fairies!
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