Tag Archives: Christmas

The Origins of Christmas Pudding

Here in Britain, no Christmas is complete without a helping of Christmas pudding (or ‘figgy pudding’ as it is called in the popular carol, We Wish You a Merry Christmas). A blend of dried fruit, spices, suet and other ingredients, it is often made to traditional family recipes and sometimes left to age a whole year before being served.

Its appearance at the dinner table is one of the highlights of the festive season, as described in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843): ‘Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.’

But where did the custom of Christmas Pudding originate?

According to popular belief, Christmas pudding dates back to medieval times, when it was prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the apostles, and stirred from east to west in honour of the journey made by the magi. However, no definite recipes for ‘plum pudding’ appear until the 1600s. Back then, it was associated more with the Harvest Festival than with Christmas.

Another myth claims that King George I began the Christmas pudding tradition in 1714, when he asked for ‘plum pudding’ to be served during his first royal Christmas feast. He has been nicknamed ‘The Pudding King’ as a result,  but sadly there is no contemporary evidence for this story.

The tale of the 18th century Pudding King probably originated as late as 1911, when the Strand Magazine described how the royal children of King George V’s household enjoyed  a Christmas Dinner of ‘traditional roast turkey, sausages and plum pudding. The latter, by the way, is made from a recipe that has been in possession of the Royal Family since the days of George I.’

Whether or not George I had plum pudding at his feast, it was an important feature of Christmas dinner by Victorian times (like so many of our Christmas traditions, it was made fashionable by the queen’s husband, Prince Albert). In 1845, the cook Eliza Acton finally gave it the name ‘Christmas Pudding’ .

Today most of us buy our Christmas puddings ready-made, but they are still based on recipes passed down from olden times – and, when the brandy is set alight, we still feel that same sense of wonder and delight!

Louisa Watson

102 Years since the Christmas Truce

After the declaration of war against Germany in 1914, it only took a few weeks to realise that the battle would be long, hard and savage. The Great War is known today as one of the bloodiest in history.

Badly equipped men, both young and old, had been conscripted into the army and thrown into hastily-dug trenches in France. These trenches became freezing, mud-filled death traps, continuously raked with machine gun fire.

Human slaughter had reached new heights. Bloodshed, suffering and death were an everyday occurrence.

Out of this unimaginable carnage, on Christmas Day 1914, came an event so extraordinary that it defied the whole concept of war.

Soldiers in the trenches of Ypres and Salient who had spent days trying to kill each other downed weapons and put aside any hatred to join together in ‘No Man’s Land’ for a game of football.

Despite being on different sides, these men had a lot in common. No one really wanted to be there and a lot of the soldiers had no idea why they were trying to kill each other in the first place. What they did know was that they shared a cold, wet, terrifying existence and many of them would not survive the winter.

In some places, the trenches were less than 60 yards apart, and the soldiers could see that their enemies experienced the same appalling conditions as themselves. In the midst of the carnage, a sort of understanding had developed.

Every morning a board was put up above the trench line that indicated the hour for breakfast. All hostilities were halted for that hour so that men could get water to wash in, prepare breakfast and eat their meal without having to worry about being shot.

It was the Germans who made the first move towards a truce on Christmas Eve 1914. First the cold air was split with the sound of Christmas carols, followed by light-hearted jibes. Slowly, Christmas trees appeared above the German trenches and before long the British followed suit. The two sides started to talk to each other and a cautious level of trust was established.

The British and German soldiers returned to the trenches at the end of Christmas Eve after shaking hands and sharing tobacco. Informal ceasefires were arranged between the units. On Christmas Day itself, both sides put away their differences and celebrated in full. Food, gifts and tobacco were exchanged and several football matches were arranged.

Although these ‘matches’ were more or less a mass kick-about with over a hundred men on either side, there were no ill feelings among the players. The whole day passed in good spirit and gave both sides a glimpse of what it was like to be normal again – but only for a few hours. Boxing Day saw the hostilities recommence in earnest.

Unsurprisingly, the British and German commanders roundly condemned the truce, issuing orders for it not to be repeated: “Fraternization with the enemy has no place in the trenches.”

Of course, they were not with their men on the front line when they gave these orders; the generals issued their commands from the warmth, comfort and safety of the rear.

Stuart Moore