Stephen Jardine: In praise of a stirring Christmas tradition

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Here’s a stirring way to start the magic of Christmas, writes Stephen Jardine.

At it’s worst it can be an excuse for things that really belong in the past if they cannot adapt to the modern world. Anyone who watched the documentary this week about the antiquated attitudes to women surrounding the Hawick Common Riding will know exactly what I’m talking about.

However some traditions are worth preserving exactly as they are. Like Stir Up Sunday.

Tomorrow, people across Britain will make the pudding that will be the crowning glory of the great feast in 4 weeks time. It is a food and drink tradition like no other. In an age of instant gratification, Stir Up Sunday is the opposite of that. It is the promise of good things to come but just a lot of washing up right now.

Like so many of our festive traditions, it has it’s roots in Victorian times. The origins of the Christmas Pudding are medieval but Prince Albert made it fashionable in the 19th century and started the habit of families making it together. The last Sunday before Advent provides time for the puddings to mature and the general prayer read in churches gave the day it’s nickname : “Stir up, we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of they faithful people”.

The people making their Christmas Puddings at home are nothing if not faithful. The supermarkets report declining sales as more and more customers turn instead to lighter alternatives. Only 54% of us will sit down to Christmas Pudding on December 25th. The other 46% will be opting for everything from clementine pavlovas to gingerbread cheesecakes. Tesco now sells three times as many Christmas Pudding alternatives as it did just 10 years ago.

However that hasn’t put off the Stir Up Sunday traditionalists. If shop sales of puddings are falling, the home made variety is bucking the trend. That may be down to the pervasive influence of social media. After all, a Sunday spent making and stirring a pudding is a very Instagram friendly activity. With a few tiny tweaks, it is also suitable for vegans. With more and more people choosing that way of eating, a pudding full of fruit and booze that ticks the right boxes is something worth preserving.

But over and above all that, what keeps Stir Up Sunday going is the tradition itself. In an age where the weekend can just mean different generations sitting in different rooms staring at different screens, making the pudding for Christmas Day is a simple shared activity no one can object to.

According to tradition, as many members of the family as possible should be involved with the youngest giving it the first stir and the eldest giving it the last. Proper pedants also insist it should be stirred east to west to mimic the journey the Three Wise Men took to Bethlehem but that may be taking tradition too far.

Several hours of mixing and boiling will give you a kitchen full of the smells of Christmas and a pudding for the day itself. Of course it is too rich and heavy but that’s not really the point.

If the festive season is about family and sacred traditions, a few hours spent making a proper pudding is as good a way as any to start the magic of Christmas.