This Sunday is known in some parts of England as Stir-up Sunday. It’s an old Anglican nickname for the last Sunday before Advent and it’s not actually about baking, or cooking of any kind. The day has been known that way at least since the 19th century although probably a lot longer as the name comes from a reading, or Collect, found in The Book of Common Prayer first published in 1549.
The designated text for that particular Sunday, “Stir up, we beseech thee”, seemed to have a certain effect on the more culinary inclined parishioners. As they sat in church, trying to ignore the drafts and looking forward to lunch, what could be more natural than to start running through all the things that needed to be done in the run up to the festive season. There was mincemeat to be made, Christmas cakes to be soused in spirits, suet puddings to stir up. It wasn’t long then, before the kitchen was filled with the smell of spices and Christmas was in the air. Things haven’t changed much today. If you look in your weekend newspaper this week you may very well see a recipe for plum pudding. Old habits die hard.
We’ve taken a look through the newspapers to watch how the anticipation grew over the years. A hundred years of early Christmas preparations to amuse and delight. In 1852, for example. The Oxford University and City Herald mentions, the nickname.
Oxford University and City Herald – Saturday 20 November 1852 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
But not in as much detail as the Berkshire Chronicle, quoting the periodical Once a Week, on Saturday November 28 1868. “To a holiday-craving lad, Stir-up Sunday is a species of scholastic Hegira, containing a suggestion of flight, and providing him with a definite period from which he can arrange the simple chronological details that attend upon an eventual circumstance in his life.” Whoever wrote the original piece was warming to their theme – Christmas was coming! “To fagged school masters, wearied private tutors and jaded ushers, it tells a speedy release from their horse-in-the-mill round of work, when they can recruit their energies in freedom and frisk out of harness.”
Berkshire Chronicle November 25 1868 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In 1871 the festivities were creeping. Bell’s Weekly Messenger noted the consternation of some of their readers in finding mince pies in the earlier half of the month.
Finally the end of the war meant that a writer in Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press was looking to the future. In 1945 the spring was close at hand and the tone was optimistic.
Christmas starts much earlier these days but some things never change. If you’re stirring your pudding this weekend, or if you find other Stir up examples in your own research, do let us know. It’s just that time of year.