Custom revived: Stir Up Sunday


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“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The first sentence of this passage of the Common Book of Prayer appears to be rationale behind the establishment of a curious domestic custom, called Stir-up Sunday. This was a custom that arose to recognise the Sunday before Advent.

As most fruit cakes and puddings taste better let to stand it was a likely one to connect to the day, especially with the added pun of fruit in it! It is thought that as cooks, wives and servants going to church would hear this and after hearing this would rush home and make a pudding.

 Raisin to the occasion!

The custom involves the making of the Christmas pudding. This is traditionally made of 12 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and stirred East to West to represent the journey of the Wise Men. Each member of the family must stir the pudding and whilst doing it a wish is made.

The custom was said to have originated from Victoria and Albert however a London tradition associated with the day suggests it might have an older origin or else an older custom became fused to it. One of the only non-domestic traditions associated with the Day is the Temple Inn’s Queen’s Pudding. A newspaper report in the Mail from the 16th December 1944 record the legend:

The pudding is a link with the days of another Queen Elizabeth. It seems that Good Queen Bess was taking a stroll through the gardens of the Temple when the smell of cooking assailed the Royal nostrils. She, tracked the smell to the Middle Temple kitchen. .There she found the cook preparing a pudding for the judges, barristers, and students to eat that night. History doesn’t say if she rolled up her sleeves, but it does all ere that she stirred the pudding: The cook didn’t throw away? what was left over after the meal. He kept it, and used it as the base for the next pudding. His successors have been doing the same each year for the past350 years, so the chances of Queen Elizabeth getting any of the original pudding would be mighty slim.”

Although the author probably did not know much about atoms! Apparently some time obviously after this date I assume, someone threw away all the pudding or scoffed it all thus ending this 350 odd year old tradition. But then, a visit by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, provided the answer in the 1970s. A pudding was provided and she dutifully stirred it! However, in communication with the Temple they informed me that it had not been done for many years. I imagine the pudding was too good to not eat! But the loss was probably in line with the demise of the custom in general.

Bowled out

The custom is a domestic and private one, so it is difficult to gauge how it is upheld, however the rise of the shop bought pudding appears to have in the latter half of the 20th century saw the demise of the custom. My mother was a keen cook and she never prepared one.  A survey in 2007 stated that two-thirds of British children had never made a pudding from scratch and certainly as the 21st century continued the downward trend to its demise..and then in a culture of TV bake-off unsurprisingly it has returned and it is everywhere. In 2007 even the Government got involved. Celebrity chef from Raymond Blanc to Jamie Oliver being pulled in to save the pudding!  The later stating:

“Stir Up Sunday is a great way for families to start cooking together – it’s high time we brought the tradition back into our kitchens”

In the last few years I’ve been entering into the spirit. On the 23rd this year I opened the cupboard and compared with my ingredients list. Well I had the spices..that was it… so I hurried down to the shops. Struggling back through the rain I was ready and getting the bowl and scales, spoon and the most important ingredient – some young enthusiastic helpers – I set about it.


They enjoyed measuring everything out, resisting all temptation of eating the dried fruit, cracking eggs and whisking. However, the stirring was a little beyond them especially working out the East to West..and they seemed to put off by the smell of the rum. Well at least it stopped them licking out the bowl. Then I poured the mixture into the bowl, then into a large saucepan, put on the lid and set it to steam. Two hours later or rather one and half later and I forgotten it and burnt the base…and I had a nice spongy pudding. I cut off the bit that was a bit burnt, that aside it tasted nice..the bits around it..not the pudding. No that was wrapped up put in a cupboard ready for Christmas! By this time of course I was on my own with the enterprise…they’ll be back in a month time to eat it no doubt!

I for once could see why a custom like this could die out! It was time consuming, but enjoyable and if I was to be honest much more expensive than buying a pre-made one. But money is not everything of course. Will the revival spread? Who’s to know, especially with 50% of young people not liking it! I was convinced mine would be nice but after all the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!


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