Sunday, November 23 is Stir-Up Sunday, the day people traditionally make their Christmas puddings. Soaked in rum or brandy, the puddings can be set aside to mellow and be ready to eat for the holiday.
Why are puddings made on this particular Sunday? Because it is the last Sunday before the season of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas, when a prayer in Anglican churches directs parishioners to “stir up …the wills of thy faithful people.” Of course, the prayer has nothing to do with pudding. But that Sunday became the starting point of pudding preparation, when plum puddings as well as the wills of the faithful were to be stirred.
Everyone in the family is supposed to take a turn stirring the pudding and to make a wish while doing so. Along with the raisins, currants, sugar, and spices that go into the pudding are various trinkets. Each one has a meaning for the person who finds it in his or her slice on Christmas day. The person who finds a ring will be married in the coming year. A coin means riches are on the way. The trinket tradition is so well known that Agatha Christie made the trinkets a clue in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.
In Victorian times, it was so important to have a pudding that women who weren’t well off joined savings clubs and set aside a few pennies a week throughout the year so they’d be able to buy the ingredients in time for the holiday. Maybe that’s how Mrs. Cratchit managed it.
Americans know Christmas, or plum, pudding from Charles Dickens’s description in A Christmas Carol. But the pudding never became central to the holiday in the U.S. the way it did in England. In the U.S., it was and is just another dessert.
In England, it’s just as iconic as Christmas trees or carols. To this day, the pudding has a starring role at the holiday feast. At the close of dinner, the lights are dimmed and the pudding is carried aloft into the dining room wreathed in blue flames and greeted with oohs, aahs, and applause. Some people still make their puddings, to judge by the many recipes printed in newspapers, magazines, and on-line. But stores in England abound with festively wrapped puddings for those who don’t make their own.
Queen Elizabeth serves pudding made by the royal chef to the family for Christmas dinner. She buys more puddings to give to staff and friends. It is estimated that over the years she’s given away 90,000 puddings, with no end in sight.