Stir it up

The Victorians have been instrumental for many customs in church and society and Stir Up Sunday is one of many. Traditionally, the last Sunday before Advent was the time when the family would gather together and prepare the ingredients for the Christmas pudding. But the tradition of stirring goes far beyond the Victorians. The opening words of the Book Of Common Prayer, used on the last Sunday before Advent, reads: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” There is something in the meaning of this custom which resonates at a deeper level than the mixing of the ingredients of the Christmas pudding!

But let’s stay with tradition for a while longer and see how this simple ceremony has become part of the preparations for Christmas. Tradition has it that a ‘good’ pudding has 13 ingredients, representing Jesus and his disciples. These ingredients then need to be stirred in a specific action – from east to west – in recognition of the Magi’s journey to find the Christ-child. The process does not finish here, a sprig of holly is placed on the top of the pudding to symbolise the crown of thorns which the Roman soldiers forced upon the head of Jesus. Finally, a coin or a charm is inserted into the pudding. This has no religious significance at all, other than needing a priest if the coin were to choke the lucky recipient!

With the availability of ready made puddings, Stir up Sunday has become a traditional relic. However, many will remember being asked by the mother to make a wish during the stirring of the Christmas pudding. (Was that the year I got my bike?) I don’t think this type of wish-making was the intention of Thomas Cranmer when he penned the phrase, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.”

In the liturgical calendar Stir Up Sunday is also known as Christ the King, the last Sunday before the new Church year begins and with that, Advent. This celebration of Christ the King of heaven and earth enables us to journey into the Advent season with a desire to know God, to welcome the suffering servant, Jesus, into the world.  It wasn’t too long ago when Advent was kept, like Lent, for six weeks, not four.  So perhaps the feast of Christ the King was intended to literally stir us up to prepare for the great mystery of the incarnation.  On this day, the endnote of the Christian year, we should stir up the sun and clouds, we should stir up the suffering and the darkness, we should stir up the hope and malaise.  Through God’s most profound grace, we should stir up what is the very best of our humanity and the very worst of the human condition and pray that Christ the King may become known in the world that people may taste and see.  

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Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.