Edible Gift: Christmas Pudding in a Jar

Stir-up Sunday: a very Victorian Christmas

by Great British Chefs 15 November 2019

On Sunday 21 November, dedicated bakers across the UK will be sifting, pouring and (of course) stirring their socks off to create a homemade Christmas miracle. Discover the history of this iconic British tradition and how the different customs result in a very tasty pudding come Christmas Day.


Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Since Victorian times, British families have been gathering together on the last Sunday before Advent to get into the Christmas spirit and make a pudding for the big day. While it isn’t as widespread today as it was then, there's still a core group of passionate home bakers who celebrate Stir-up Sunday every year, a day when they'll make the best figgy pudding they can.

Even if the children are already writing their letters to Santa and the shops are fit to bursting with decorations, selection boxes and novelty festive gifts, it can seem a bit overeager to be in the kitchen preparing something that won’t be eaten for five weeks. But a good Christmas pudding needs time to mature; for the dried fruit to absorb the booze and all the flour, sugar and spices to come together and develop that wonderfully chewy, dense texture. Plus, with all those spuds to peel, turkey to baste and table places to set, it’s nice to have a made-from-scratch pudding that just needs steaming whilst everyone tucks into the main course. But why is there a specific day devoted to making Christmas pudding, and why are there so many customs and traditions associated with it?

Victorian Britain was a much more religious society than today, with nearly everyone attending church and the custom of exchanging gifts reserved for the wealthy. On the last Sunday before Advent began, churchgoers would be read to from the Book of Common Prayer of 1549, which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’. Families were already creating the mixtures for their Christmas puddings (which were made popular by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert) around this time as they took roughly five weeks to mature, so the two eventually became connected and the Sunday before Advent became known as Stir-up Sunday.

With the preparation of a Christmas pudding now associated with a Christian holiday, more traditions soon followed. A garnish of holly leaves represented Jesus’ crown of thorns, while originally only thirteen ingredients were included to represent Jesus and each of his disciples. The mixture even had to be stirred in a specific way – from east to west to pay homage to the journey undertaken by the three wise men. Every member of the family would take turns doing this as they were allowed to make a wish while doing so, which also gave the mother of the family a rest as the mixture was very thick and hard to stir!

Before the pudding was cooked and then left to mature until Christmas Day charms would be hidden inside the mix, bringing luck to whoever found them. A silver coin represented wealth, a ring represented marriage, a thimble meant you had God’s blessing and a horseshoe or wishbone meant good fortune. Some cooks still include charms inside their puddings today, but it’s probably a good idea to warn everyone they’re in there to prevent any cracked teeth!

Today, Stir-up Sunday is about more than just the Christmas pudding; mincemeat for mince pies, Christmas cakes, chutneys and jams are also prepared. In fact, any festive baked treat that benefits from a few weeks' maturing time can be whipped up on Stir-up Sunday. While less of us might be going to church to celebrate the last Sunday before Advent, it seems a shame that around ninety percent of us now just plonk a shop-bought pudding in the trolley rather than spending time with the family to make one from scratch. If you wouldn’t dream of letting someone else peel and par-cook your vegetables for Christmas dinner, then why let them make the pudding? It’s easier, cheaper and tastier to make your own – provided you get the best quality flour, dried fruits and booze you can afford – but above all else it gives you the chance to turn cooking into a social occasion full of fun and Christmas cheer.