For the fifth Sunday before Christmas Today is also the Sunday before Advent starts, or the 25th Sunday after Trinity, the following collect appears in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
“Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works…”
An ecclesiastical tradition hijacked by cooks
The timing of the “Stir-up” collect in the Church calendar just happens to coincide with the ideal time for people to make their Christmas puddings and Christmas cakes in order to allow them to age for Christmas Day.
It was also an ideal time to buy eggs and dried fruits for the baking before higher winter prices for them set in.
Consequently, it became the day (or the week thereafter) on which people “stirred up” the batter for such Christmas delicacies, and cooked them.
A Northern Ireland minister, writing in 1940, admitted that the prayer book lines had been reconfigured in popular culture:
“I still remember the somewhat irreverent popular rhyme…
Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot;
Stir up, we beseech thee, that we may eat it hot.” —Ashby, L.B. Linking up the Holy and the Homely. Belfast, Northern Ireland: The Belfast Telegraph. Saturday, 23 November 1940. Page 4, col. 2
The Stir for Luck Tradition
For good luck in the coming year, everyone in the family would give the mixture at least one stir, being careful to stir from east to west, because the Three Kings came from the east. You made a wish while stirring.
“Every housewife who is worth her salt will have her plum puddings and mincemeat made ready for ‘Stir up Sunday’. In old-fashioned houses on the last Sunday in Trinity the mincemeat was solemnly carried round in its jar, and everyone stirred it for luck, from the head of the house down to the youngest member of the household, so that they might all have their share in the good luck in the coming year.” — Cuisine: Christmas Fare and the Preparation. London, England: The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper. 25 November 1911. Page 974, col 3.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, from which the “Stir-up Sunday” term is derived, dates from the mid-1500s.
Many traditions became attached to the floating date, using it to mark a progression in both the secular and ecclesiastical year.
As for culinary traditions attached to the date, it’s probably safe to say that aspect goes back to at least the late 1700s, based on primary evidence CooksInfo has seen in archives of newspapers of the period.
The culinary traditions appear, however, to have been originally associated with mincemeat, not Christmas pudding. The association with Christmas pudding appears to have started to slide in sometime in the mid- to late-1800s, which would coincide with the Victorian predilection for a gussied-up Christmas version of plum pudding (and thus called Christmas pudding) setting in and taking hold. By the start of the 1900s, the association with Christmas pudding has become so strong that only a few remember that the day was also associated with making mincemeat and by the early to mid-1900s, as far as writers are concerned, the “ancient” tradition has always been Christmas pudding.
In terms of a bullet-point timeline, we appear to have this happening:
- late 1700s and earlier, Stir-up Sunday is associated with making one’s mincemeat;
- mid 1800s, Christmas pudding, previously disparaged by puritanical forces, has been re-popularized by Prince Albert and starts to become fashionable to serve. Some people begin making their puddings up on Stir-up Sunday, as well as their mincemeat;
- By the early 1850s, commercially-prepared mincemeat starts to appear for sale both in bulk and in jars (See Mincemeat history);
- As the final quarter of the 1800s progresses, Stir-up Sunday becomes more strongly associated with mixing up Christmas puddings rather than mincemeat. (Did this happen because it became more of a general habit for people to purchase their mincemeat ready-made?);
- By the beginning of the 1900s, commercially-made Christmas puddings start becoming affordably available (See: Homemade vs bought Christmas puddings);
- During the first half of 1900s, writers predominantly identify puddings as the traditional culinary association with Stir-up Sunday;
- By the mid-1900s, with the purchase of Christmas puddings having become the norm, any culinary tradition at all associated with Stir-up Sunday becomes a historical mention.
Stir-Up Sunday Was a Milepost Day in the Calendar
Stir-up Sunday marked a transition point in the year. Autumn was more than half over, and Christmas, along with colder weather, was now rising over the horizon.
“S.G.O., writing to the Times, says: — “‘Stir-up’ Sunday is a day associated in the minds of many of our fellow-creatures with feelings peculiar to itself. The school sons and daughters of the well-to-do hail this collect of the church as a pleasant witness to the fact that the weeks of the passing half-year are drawing to a close, the day for home is rapidly approaching. By ‘Stir-up’ Sunday the drapers of country towns provide the exhibition of blankets and flannels, ready against the demand for clothing clubs, tempting to those who now meditate warming gifts to the poor and the cold.
Parish clerks seek the order of the churchwardens for coals for the church stove, always lit after ‘Stir-up’ Sunday. Sunday school children, itching with early chilblains, repeat this collect as, in their minds, a proclamation that winter is come, just as they hail the cry of the cuckoo with childish glee as a voice which says winter is gone. The wealthy now finally settle the program for Christmas; who will be the guests, and what is to be done in preparation for the holydays of the juveniles.
Every newspaper now puts forth its advertisements of the fashions for the coming winter; especially about ‘Stir-up’ Sunday to those gentleman who have to sell cheap, under money difficulty, or ‘being ordered to a warm climate’, the beautiful, scarcely worn fur cloaks and rugs, put forth their bait to wealthy seekers of defence against winter’s cold.” — “STIR-UP” SUNDAY. Windsor, Berkshire, England: Windsor and Eton Express. Saturday, 28 November 1863. page 2, col. 1.
Stir-up Sunday Culinary Traditions and Mincemeat
In 1823, a middle-aged writer noted that when he was a schoolboy (likely in the late 1700s) Stir up Sunday was associated with mince(meat) pies:
“When schoolboys we always hailed with joy Stir up Sunday, as the commencement of our mince pie season, and as we frequently at an advanced age, adhere to habits acquired in early life, so, in the present instance, there are many who still pursue the stir up custom. I attended my Parish Church on Sunday, where the officiating Minister acted in conformity to the Almanack, instead of the Rubrick, and led me into an error, for not finding mince pies at my table, according to the old Ecclesiastical intimation, I sent for my housekeeper, an antiquated virgin, particular and punctilious in every respect, and was about to express my disappointment, when the old Lady proved her justification by producing her Prayer Book, accompanied by a wish that the Parson would mind his business, as well as she did her’s.” — Jack Horner. Letter to the editor. London, England: The Morning Post. Wednesday, 19 November 1823. Page 3, col. 3.
In 1830, the Reverend Robert Forby noted the mince pies and Stir-Up Sunday association in East Anglia; he also noted that he did not approve of this profane debasement of a religious observance.
“Stir-Up-Sunday, s. the last Sunday after Trinity; of which the Collect, in our Book of Common Prayer, begins with the words ‘Stir Up’. It was very common of old, to denominate Sundays or holidays, from initial words of the Collect, Anthem, or some other part of the Romish service for the day. Many instances are to be found in the dates of the Paston Letters. This is, perhaps, the only Protestant instance. A very silly one it is, and if not positively profane, certainly very irreverent. The good housewives who hear it, are supposed, forsooth, to be admonished to think of mixing the ingredients of their mince-pies, of which the proper season is then arrived.” — Forby, Robert. The Vocabulary of East Anglia: An Attempt to Record the Vulgar Tongue of the Twin Sister Counties, Norfolk and Suffolk. London: J.B. Nichols. 1830. Vol II, page 327.
A newspaper columnist in 1859 asserted that Stir-up Sunday was associated with mince pies:
“The feelings associated with this season, in the olden time, were of a very exuberant character; and the preparations for giving it “due homage” were actively commenced several weeks before. Indeed, our East Anglian housewives have been accustomed, very irreverently it is true, to consider the Collect for the last Sunday after Trinity to be the Church’s admonition to ‘think of mixing the ingredients of their mince pies,” and have therefore, from the initial words of the Collect, denominated it ‘Stir-up Sunday'” — Lowestoft, T. Christmas. Leicester, England: The Leicester Guardian. Saturday, 24 December 1859. Page 8, col. 4.
The association occurs again with another writer in 1866, but this time with Cumberland rather than East Anglia:
“In some parts of the county of Cumberland, especially those in the fell district, the inhabitants used formerly to begin very early with their preparations for Christmas. The collect for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity (Sunday last) begins with the words ‘Stir up’ and this was the day which the good wives used to notice as one soon after which they ought to begin to prepare their mince-meat for the mince-pies, and the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity was known as ‘Stir-up’ Sunday.” — “STIR-UP SUNDAY”. Wigton, Cumberland, England: The Wigton Advertiser. Saturday, 1 December 1866. Page 6, col. 5.
A Christmas short story in 1867 drew a link between Stir-up Sunday and mincemeat:
“‘But dis mince pie, mesdemoiselles, about which you make so much talk? Mince pie — what is dat?’ the fair Petitose, greatly puzzled, inquired.
‘Don’t you know?’ little Laura exclaimed in astonishment. ‘Why mince pie is apples, and beef, and currants (what you call ‘raisins de Corinthe’) and suet, and salt, and sugar, and almonds and — and — ‘
‘Dat must be veree nastee!’ interrupted the Petitose, with a visible shudder running through her pretty frame…
‘Oh no, it isn’t’, Goody explained. ‘On the contrary, it’s very nice; especially if you make it before Stir-up Sunday, and stir it up well every Sunday afterwards.'” — A nice mince pie: or the merry maids of Middlesex. Dorchester, Dorset, England: Dorset County Express and Agricultural Gazette. Tuesday, 24 December 1867. Page 3, col. 1.
In an 1869 newspaper homily, Stir-up Sunday was put forward as the sensible time to make one’s mincemeat:
“‘Lawk’s a mussey me, why the parson read the ‘Stir up Collik’ to-day. Who’d a-thought ‘Stir up Sunday’ was come round agen so soon? I must be seeing after my mincemeat!’ S, said an old farmer’s wife in Warkwickshire, in the days of our youth, getting over a stile on her road home for church on Advent Sunday. And very pleasant, homely, hospitable, and charitable thoughts ‘Stir up’ Sunday and mincemeat bring with them, and long may they do so!
The old lady on top of the stile, apostrophising on the vision roused by the ‘collik’ she had just heard, expressed what, we hope, many a heart feels once a year — ‘We must see about mincemeat’, i.e. the ‘duty’ of thinking graciously, freely, and abundantly about others, and in good time, before the pinch of distress comes.
People in these days are losing that old lady’s principle; they begin making mincemeat too late, or only make it up by piecemeal as wanted, whereas it ought to be made and laid up in jars weeks before Christmas Day…” — M.A. Advent Thoughts for Newspapers: When and How to Make Mincemeat. To the Editor. Norwich, Norfolk, England: Norwich Mercury. Saturday, 18 December 1869. Page 5, col. 3.
An 1871 newspaper piece mentions the association between Stir-Up Sunday and mincemeat — but also notes that mincemeat tarts appear well before then, anyway:
“The joys of November are not exhausted. Tomorrow three weeks — the TWENTY-SIXTH — is ‘Stir-up’ Sunday, a signal to schoolboys and schoolgirls that Christmas holidays are nigh, and that holiday letters must be written. Gossips aver that no mince-meat may be tasted before ‘Stir-up’ Sunday; but as mince-pies and plum-pudding invariably appear at the civic feasts of the 9th November, the gossips should reconsider their opinion, or write to the Companies in correction of their mistake.” — Dreary Dark November. London, England: Bell’s Weekly Messenger. Saturday, 4 November 1871. Page 4, col. 6.
An 1882 column asserts the continuing Stir-Up Sunday link with mincemeat:
“‘Stir up Sunday’, as the last Sunday in the Church year is called — the collect for the day commencing with the words ‘Stir up’ — as a reminder to many people that the time has come to prepare for Christmas, by laying in a stock of mincemeat. That day was the Sunday before last; and we dare say that the mincemeat has already been prepared in many households.” — The Household: Mincemeat. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England: The Newcastle Courant. Friday, 8 December 1882. Page 7, col. 5.
Stir-Up Sunday Traditions Migrate to Christmas Pudding
The following 1881 newspaper excerpt is the earliest mention that CooksInfo has been able to find in newspaper archives of Stir-up Sunday being used as a reminder to make Christmas pudding. It is written by a man reminiscing from his childhood, so the occasion would have been a few decades prior to the 1800s:
“It must have been November, for it was ‘Stir up’ Sunday, when we boys congratulated ourselves on the approach of the Christmas holidays. For after the bonfires of the 5th November the days and weeks dragged on slowly till Christmas, and it was always a relief to us to hear in church the collect commencing ‘Stir up we beseech thee oh Lord”, which betokened that Advent had arrived and that we might count by days what remained of school. My mother always made the Christmas pudding on the Monday after this, and would have thought it in ill condition for eating, had it not hung in a bag from the kitchen ceiling with half its boiling accomplished for four Advent Sundays.” — An Episode of Torbay, Chapter II. Saint Peter Port, Guernsey: The Star. Tuesday, 21 July 1881. Page 4, col. 1.
In 1892, a household column writer says that Stir-up Sunday is a time to make up both one’s mincemeat and one’s pudding:
“I must remind my readers that Christmas puddings are best made some time in advance of the 25th of December. They should be boiled at least 6 hours when mixed, and will be all the better for another six hours’ boiling before they are eaten on the great anniversary so near at hand. I know that what is called Stir-up Sunday, apart from its religious significance, is generally regarded as a reminder to good housewives to begin preparations for the making of mincemeat and plum puddings. Every cookery book furnishes a recipe for these time honored dishes, so that I refrain from giving one here.” — Gertrude. Household Notes: Christmas Puddings. The West Sussex Times and Standard. Horsham, West Sussex, England: Saturday, 10 December 1892. Page 3, col. 4.
An 1894 writer assumes that the Christmas pudding was made on Stir-up Sunday:
“A Christmas dinner without the time-honoured plum pudding — kept in a discreet mould since ‘Stir-up Sunday’, the twenty-fifth after Trinity — the fatted turkey and the mince-pie, would be a mockery, a whited sepulchre wherein we made merry with skulls instead of the food fellowship that arises from good feeding.” — On Christmas Books. London, England: The Gentlewoman. Saturday, 24 November 1894. Page 676, col. 1.
A 1904 writer notes an association with plum pudding, with no mention of mincemeat:
“It is not recognised in the Church calendar, but the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, which fell on Sunday, is known in many Anglican families as ‘Stir Up’ Sunday. As all know, the collect for that day begins, ‘Stir up, we beseech’, &c., and this, in association with the stirring up of plum puddings at this particular time of year, has led to the amusing designation of the Sunday which precedes Advent.” — From All Quarters. Bournemouth, Hampshire, England: Bournemouth Daily Echo. Tuesday, 22 November 1904. Page 4, col. 3.
In 1905, a Daily Mirror writer calls mixing up puddings on Stir-up Sunday an “old-fashioned” tradition, with no mention of mincemeat.
“Christmas puddings become realities next Sunday, the 26th, known as ‘Stir-Up Sunday’, when people in old-fashioned households meet to stir the pudding for luck. Like many another good old custom, this one, largely owning to the changes brought about by flat and hotel life, and the growing difficulty of procuring satisfactory servants, is fast falling into disuetude.” — Stir-Up Sunday: Decline and Fall of Home-Cooked Christmas Puddings. London, England: The Daily Mirror. Monday, 20 November 1905. Page 5, col. 3.
A 1905 writer said that it was a “sorry housewife” who did not have her Christmas pudding made by Stir-up Sunday — with no mention of mincemeat.
“‘Stir-up Sunday, as our dear domesticated ancestresses (now so regretfully belauded by modern man, Orientals at heart, most of them!) called it — a sorry housewife indeed was she who, when the first words of the ‘stir up’ collect resounded through the church, could not whisper complacently to herself: — ‘The Pudding is in the Pot!” — reminded me that I had never sent you my long-promised recipe for a teetotal plum pudding…” Grass Widow’s Gossip. Bedford, Bedfordshire, England: The Bedfordshire Times and Independent. Friday, 1 December 1905. Page 5, col. 4.
A 1908 Belfast writer notes both mincemeat and pudding being associated with Stir-up Sunday:
“Many people make their puddings months before Christmas, and this is a capital plan as then eggs are usually cheaper than later on. However, as a matter of fact, the plum pudding is excellent if made any time before December. Many Episcopal Church housewives time the making of their puddings by the Church calendar! preparing their mince meat and plum puddings during the week following the 25th Sunday after Trinity — popularly called ‘Stir up’ Sunday as the collect for this day opens with those words.” — Housekeeping Notes By The Housewife. Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland: The Northern Whig. Wednesday, 4 November 1908. Page 7.
In 1915, one year into World War One, Stir-up Sunday is associated just with Christmas pudding:
“This is the schoolboy’s term for yesterday, the last Sunday after Trinity. It is taken from the two first words of the collect, and, being within four weeks of the Christmas holiday, with its abundant good fare, the words are made to bear a reference to the important process of stirring up the Christmas pudding” — Stir Up Sunday: From a Special Correspondent. Hull, Yorkshire: Hull Daily Mail. Monday, 22 November 1915. Page 4, col. 7
In 1916, an association with mincemeat as well as pudding reappears:
“It so happens that this particular Collect is used at a season of the year when most housewives contemplate making their puddings, mincemeats and other niceties and hence the term ‘Stir up Sunday.’ — Occasional Notes. Whitstable, Kent, England: Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald. Saturday, 9 December 1916. Page 3, col. 3.
In 1920, post World War One, we see only pudding mentioned:
“There is a legend in most households that plum puddings should be made by Stir-up Sunday. Those who have not yet made them should do so at once. ” — Clive, Kitty. Leicester, Leicestershire, England: Leicester Evening Mail. Friday, 3 December 1920. Page 3, col. 4.
A “Letter to the Editor” writer in 1925 remembered that in their childhood, it was common to mix both mincemeat and puddings on Stir-up Sunday:
“We had the Sunday before advent, what we called “Stir up Sunday’, which was always in my childish mind, associated with the stirring of plum puddings and mince-meat for the festive season.” — E.W. Letter to the Editor: Stir-up Sunday. Hull, Yorkshire, England: The Hull Daily Mail. Friday, 6 November 1925. Page 8, col. 3.
In 1940, a writer refers to the association as always having been with Christmas pudding:
“There is a reminder of the nearness of Christmas in the fact that next Sunday is ‘Stir up’ Sunday, the name having been derived from the Church’s collect for that day which opens with these words and which precedes the collect for Advent Sunday. The words ‘stir up’ have always been given a certain other significance, relating to puddings apart from their real associations as the opening to a very inspiring prayer for the times.” — Stir Up Sunday. Buckingham, Buckinghamshire, England: Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press. Saturday, 23 November 1940. Page 4, col. 2.
As it is an unofficial term, Stir-up Sunday will be seen spelled in different ways, such as “Stir up Sunday”, “Stir-up Sunday”, and “Stir-up-Sunday”. The differences are chiefly in the use of hyphens. Occasionally, you will see the ‘U’ on “up” capitalized.
Harrison, George and Sofia Petkar. When is Stir-up Sunday 2018 and why is this the traditional day to make Christmas puddings? London: The Sun. 12 November 2018. Accessed October 2021 at https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/food/4727883/stir-up-sunday-2018-christmas-puddings-date-tradition/
Ysewijn, Regula. Stir-up Sunday, History and Plum pudding. Blog entry. 18 November 2016. Accessed October 2021 at https://www.missfoodwise.com/2016/11/stir-sunday-history-plum-pudding.html/
|↑1||Today is also the Sunday before Advent starts, or the 25th Sunday after Trinity|