Monday, November 16, 2015

Stir Up Sunday

by Susanne "early bird" Dietze

Ugh, you've skimmed down the post and seen the Plum Pudding, and now you're rolling your eyes. A Christmas post? But it’s not even Thanksgiving!

Yes, I hear you. But trust me. Our friends in England are shopping for yummy things this week because this coming Sunday is “Stir Up” Sunday: the traditional day to concoct the Plum Pudding for one’s Christmas dessert. (Puddings improve with a bit of age, so they are made several weeks in advance.)
Christmas pudding.JPG

When I say "Stir Up" Sunday, do you imagine a wooden spoon mixing flour, raisins (aka plums) and other goodies in a big bowl? Despite the actual stirring accomplished on “Stir Up” Sunday, this custom actually got its name from church!

In the Anglican tradition, the last Sunday of the liturgical year is the week before Advent (which begins four Sundays before Christmas--this year, the date falls on November 22, hence the timing of this post). For almost four centuries, congregations in countries all over the world that used the Anglican Book of Common Prayer prayed a collect that begins like this:

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people…”

Hence, “Stir Up” Sunday. Nice that it fits with pudding-making, too.

(Fun note: This prayer was included in the Gregorian Sacramentary, which dates from approximately AD 600.)

(Fun note #2:  Since 1970, the last Sunday of the liturgical year in liturgical Protestant traditions has been known as the Feast of Christ the King. On that day, those in the Anglican tradition pray a collect that is more appropriate for that day. However, Anglicans still pray the "stir up" collect on the Third Sunday in Advent!)
1559 Book of Common Prayer--stir up our wills, Lord!
But back to pudding.

In days of yore, English families went to church together on “Stir Up” Sunday, then came home and met up in the kitchen to mix and steam the Christmas pudding. Everyone, from children to servants, took a turn stirring the pudding. The reasons for taking turns were both sentimental and practical: everyone got to make a special wish when they stirred, and the labor was distributed, because the stirring is harder than it sounds. The dough is thick and requires muscle to mix well.

making chistmas pudding.jpg
Stop tormenting your sister, young man, or you don't get to make a wish! (Found here.)
Stirring was supposed to be done east to west, to honor the journey of the Magi to the Christ Child.

Clearly, puddings were a big deal, steeped in tradition and ritual. Not just the stirring, but the whole process. Some recipes include thirteen ingredients, one for Christ and each of the disciples. Families often made two, one to keep and one to share.

After the stirring process, the pudding was steamed and set aside for a few weeks to age. Then, before serving, some families added tokens to the pudding (by pressing them into the squishy dessert and, one imagines, covering the holes with decorative holly). One’s “fortune” was told by the token one received in one's slice: a shoe meant a journey ahead, a ring meant marriage, a wishbone indicated good luck, a thimble foreshadowed thrift, and a coin meant wealth.

Today, most people expect a token placed underneath their slice, a safe place so one need not nibble ever-so-carefully to avoid breaking a tooth or choking on an unexpected surprise. Also, sadly, most people today don't stir their puddings on "Stir Up" Sunday anymore. Not when there are so many puddings ready-to-eat in the market.
We had a Downton Abbey brand plum pudding for dessert a few years ago...and we set it on fire and everything!

Whether or not you craft a plum pudding this coming Sunday, I pray you are “stirred up” by the Holy Spirit to do the good works He intends for you to do! 

Including preparations for Thanksgiving next week. ;)

(Fun fact #3: Inky Debra E. Marvin makes plum puddings! Read her post on how to do it here!)


Romance novelist Susanne Dietze wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving despite the Christmas-nature of this post. Thanks for reading this far in the spirit of holiday goodwill.


  1. I still have a hard time reconciling this kind of pudding to my mental image of pudding... which comes in a box, add milk, and mix. Very cool that they made an event out of the project. Maybe similar to the way we do family gingerbread houses today.

    1. Yeah, our version of pudding is very different than theirs! And historically, desserts were different too. Dried fruit was a much bigger deal--how else in winter could you eat sweet fruit?

      The project idea is really neat. I can imagine how excited little kids must have been during church on Stir Up Sunday, anxious to go home and stir the pudding and make wishes!

  2. Fun post, Susie. I'm with Niki on the pudding. But I love this.

    1. I'm glad, Suzie! I thought it was a fun tradition.

  3. Love this post, Susie. And although it seems like it's too early for Christmas, this is the best time to make fruitcake because you need the flavours to meld together and only time can do that properly.

    Let's see... other Christmas baking that needs time to meld are rum balls. Now where are my Christmas records... :D

    1. It does indeed seem early for Christmas (despite what the stores tell us), but plum puddings do need to age! Rum balls sound pretty good, too. How early do you make those?

  4. Such an interesting post!

    I love the Christmas pudding tradition, though I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy eating the actual pudding.

    I thought the thimble meant spinsterhood. ;)

    1. My husband loves how the pudding tastes. If you like raisins, you'd like it.

      Interesting about the thimble. I found thrift *and* now that you mention it, some sites say spinsterhood for the year. I wonder if the tradition varied by area.


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