Christmas (or Plum) Pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. But what we think of as Christmas Pudding, is not what it was originally like! says Why Christmas.
Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavor with the addition of beer and spirits. It became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it as a bad custom.
In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed Plum Pudding. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.
Over the years, many superstitions have surrounded Christmas Puddings. One superstition says that the pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in honour of the Wise Men.
The Sunday before Advent Sunday (which is also the last Sunday in the Church Year), is sometimes know as ‘Stir-up Sunday’. This is because opening words of the Collect for the day (the main prayer) in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 (used in Anglican Churches) says:
“Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Although Christmas Puddings are eaten at Christmas, some customs associated with the pudding are about Easter! The decorative sprig of holly on the top of the pudding is a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns that he wore when he was killed. Brandy or another alcoholic drink is sometimes poured over the pudding and lit at the table to make a spectacular display. This is said to represent Jesus’ love and power.
In the Middle Ages, holly was also thought to bring good luck and to have healing powers. It was often planted near houses in the belief that it protected the inhabitants.
During Victorian times, puddings in big and rich houses were often cooked in fancy moulds (like jelly ones). These were often in the shapes of towers or castles. Normal people just had puddings in the shape of balls. If the pudding was a bit heavy, they were called cannonballs!
In America, Christmas Pudding (also known as plum pudding or figgy pudding) is a dish as famous as it is misunderstood. It’s the flaming center of the climactic meal of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and pops up in carols themselves: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” has two whole verses about demanding figgy pudding. But for the uninitiated, Christmas puddings are eyed with skepticism befitting a dish that can be accurately described as a cross between a fruitcake and a haggis, set on fire.
Over the past century the Christmas pudding has slimmed down and simplified somewhat, according to modern tastes. The pudding-bag, in which the pudding is twice-boiled, is often replaced with molds shaped like a half-melon or bundt cake. Instructions for lighting the brandy sauce prior to serving include numerous fire-safety caveats. The pudding’s pagan roots are now celebrated rather than swept under the Christmas-tree skirt. A recent history cheerfully notes that the game of “snap dragons,” in which children compete to pluck raisins from the flaming brandy, likely has origins with the Celtic Druids. Across the Atlantic, where fruitcake’s own fortunes have waned in recent decades, Christmas pudding remains a curiosity known primarily from films, books and song lyrics, and is associated with Christmas crackers, paper crowns, Bob Cratchit and Boxing Day.