Today I’m making my Christmas cake, a few days ahead of ‘Stir-up Sunday’ which is, I believe, this coming Sunday. It’s a traditional day for families to get together to make steamed Christmas puddings, and in these days when most households have their own ovens, baked Christmas cakes, though if you consult cookery books, many bakers think that Christmas puddings and cakes should be made long before November.
Over breakfast we were discussing why ‘Stir-up Sunday’ lands on the Sunday before Advent. Bob (always good for an answer to an unexpected question) told me that it is so called because of the opening words for the ‘collect of the day’ in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. ‘Excita, quaesumus, Domine, tuorum fidelium voluntates ut divini operis fructum propensius exsequentes, pietatis tuae remedia maiora percipiant’: ‘Stir up, o Lord, we beseech you, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, richly bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be richly rewarded’.
I could just imagine that churchgoers, hearing, ‘Stir up, o Lord’ and the reference to fruit and rich rewards, might indulge in a very practical bit of lateral thinking regarding the making of Christmas pudding.
After my cake was already in the oven, I read that there is an old tradition of stirring the raw mixture from East to West in honour of the journey undertaken by the Three Wise Men. When I tried to picture that mixing technique, I first thought it must mean mixing anti-clockwise, but then I realised that stirring clockwise also goes from East to West if you are allowed to go round the bottom half of the circle rather than the top (phew).