The Christmas Pudding

by Alderley Edge Methodist Church  |  Posted at 10:58am on 2nd December 2021

The Christmas pudding

Reading: Psalm 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it,

The round world and all who dwell therein.

For he has founded it upon the seas

And made it firm upon the rivers of the deep. (Psalm 24)

Dame get up and bake your pies,

Bake your pies, bake your pies,

Dame, get up and bake your pies

On Christmas Day in the morning. (Traditional carol)

 

I’m an incorrigibly last-minute person when it comes to Christmas. All through October and November, I’m busy saying, yeah, I know Christmas is coming — but not yet! It’s too soon! And even in December, there seem to be more and things that get in the way of starting my Christmas preparations. I love Christmas — but somehow I’m always reluctant to let it into my life.

 

The Christmas pudding, though — that’s different. I was brought up proper — I always knew that the pudding had to be made before Stir-up Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent). We always made two, one to eat this year and one to keep until next. I still use my Granny’s war-time recipe (you can see my grandson having a go at it on the Advent Calendar). It matures very nicely, and I like it because it’s not too sweet (so you can serve it with as much brandy butter as you like). I used to make it when the family visited me at half-term, so that everyone could join in stirring the pudding and making a wish (youngest first — and don’t tell!). Last year, of course, no visits — so they had a go at making it themselves. That’s how traditions are passed on, after all. And there’s something very satisfying about seeing that tightly-sealed pudding basin sitting quietly at the top of the fridge — a kind of pledge that Christmasis coming — ready or not.

 

Every family has its special bakes and recipes that belong to Christmas — they’re part of the rituals that make Christmas happen. They fill the kitchen with tantalizing sights and smells — only to be packed away in the freezer with a ‘Don’t touch’ notice (‘Wait and see!’ as my grandmother used to say). They’re part of that Advent feeling of tingling expectation combined with the satisfaction of making something with your hands, reviving skills you thought you’d forgotten. They link us in with memories of the past — not just our own family traditions, but reaching back to older and simpler ways of cooking and preserving food.

 

Steaming the pudding takes you back to days when most people didn’t have an oven, just a hook over the fire — and a pudding-cloth to tie up the pudding over the steaming pot. And the spices and dried fruits belong to a time (before we had freezers, even before we got oranges and sugar from the New World) when people had a barrage of traditional techniques for preserving the fruits of summer to make them last through the winter. Raisins and apricots, figs and dates (remember those long wooden boxes?) came to enrich our diet from the spice traders of the Middle East: ironically, one of the results of the crusades was that Europe began to open up to the rich and ancient food cultures of the Middle East. (Mince pies are another link with Middle Eastern cuisine — originally made with minced meat as well as dried fruit.)

 

“From the fig-tree learn its lesson,” Jesus said (Mark 13.28). What Advent lessons can we learn from the Christmas pudding? First, I think, it reminds me of the Advent psalm: The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it (Psalm 24). The Christmas feast is a celebration of the earth’s bounty, the fruits of the earth brought from sea and land. It’s a token of the careful baking and preserving and storing that goes on in kitchens to make summer’s bounty last through the winter — and a reminder that we shouldn’t take for granted the easy transport and cheap refrigeration that mean our generation has almost lost touch with the seasons.

 

Preparing for the Christmas feast is also an invitation to share in the generosity and hospitality of God’s bounty, a feast where all are welcome. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord, and who shall stand in his holy place? Baking implies guests — and Christmas is a time when we love to share our feast with family and friend. Last year we had to share it on-line — and found ways to turn our baking skills into Christmas gifts. Maybe this year the Advent theme of longing and witing will be all the fresher in our minds — because of last year’s deprivations, and because we live in a world that is waiting for the full revelation of God’s abundance, freely shared with all.

 

But above all, I think, the Advent rituals of baking and making remind me that Christmas is about a God who comes. Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in. Subtly, surreptitiously, the coming of Christmas creeps around my resistance and overcomes my fears. No other festival invades every corner of our lives like Christmas. It refuses to stay decorously in church, like Lent and Easter. It invades my house, my kitchen, my cupboards. It demands changes in my daily routines. The Christmas pudding tells me of a God who isn’t content to remain on the margins of our lives — who wants to invite himself into my home and sit at the kitchen table and share a cup of tea. A God who comes to live amongst us, to be part of our lives —and transform them for his glory:

 

 

When God Almighty came to be one of us,

Masking the glory of his golden train,

Dozens of plain things kindled by accident,

And they will never be the same again.

Sing, all ye midwives, dance all the carpenters,

Sing all ye publicans and shepherds too:

God in his mercy uses the commonplace —

God on his birthday had a need of you.

[© Michael Hewlett: Tune: The Keel Row]

 

God bless, Loveday

© Loveday Alexander

2nd December 2021