Christmas Pudding: Interesting Traditions and Customs of the famous festive dessert

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Christmas pudding is a traditional British dessert typically served during the holiday season.

Its origins can be traced back to medieval England. Also known as “plum pudding” – despite the fact that it contains no actual plums – this festive dish is synonymous with the Christmas spirit for many families.

History and Tradition of Christmas Pudding

Originally, the term “plum” in plum pudding was used to denote any type of dried fruit. The pudding’s recipe dates back to the 14th century, but it became particularly associated with the Christmas holiday in the 19th century, thanks to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria.

Traditionally, it was made on “stir-up Sunday,” which is the last Sunday before the Advent season (five weeks before Christmas). This allowed the pudding time to mature for at least a month before serving. As part of the custom, each member of the household would stir the pudding and make a wish.

Ingredients and Preparation of Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding typically includes suet, flour, breadcrumbs, sugar, and a combination of mixed dried fruit such as raisins, currants, and prunes.

Many recipes also call for the addition of ale, brandy, or some other form of alcohol, which not only adds flavour but also acts as a preservative.

The preparation of Christmas pudding involves mixing the ingredients, putting the mixture in a special pudding basin, and then steaming it for several hours.

Some recipes require the pudding to be stored and reheated on Christmas Day, and others even recommend preparing the pudding a year in advance to let the flavours fully develop.

flamed christmas pudding
Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

The Flamboyant Flaming Pudding Tradition

One of the most theatrical aspects of the Christmas pudding tradition is the flaming presentation.

After steaming, the pudding is doused in warm brandy, set alight, and then brought to the table.

The dramatic blue flames are a spectacle in themselves and have become a key part of the festive celebration.

Modern Twists and Variations of Christmas Pudding

While traditional Christmas pudding remains popular, there are now many variations on the classic recipe. Some people choose to use butter instead of suet to make it vegetarian or vegan-friendly. Others add chocolate or exotic fruits for a contemporary twist.

Gluten-free Christmas puddings are also available for those with dietary restrictions, and there are also lighter, less rich variations for those who prefer a less indulgent dessert.

The Tradition of Adding Tokens or “Charms” to Christmas Pudding

In Victorian times, it was common to add small trinkets or tokens to the pudding mix. Each token had a special meaning.

For example, finding a coin in your serving meant wealth in the coming year, a ring meant a wedding, and a thimble signified a happy but unmarried life. This tradition has largely fallen out of favour due to safety concerns, but some families continue it using sterilised items and with caution.

The “Lucky” Thirteen Ingredients of Christmas Pudding

Traditional Christmas puddings often included thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and his twelve apostles.

This is not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a fun tradition that some families continue.

The Figgy Pudding

Another version of the Christmas pudding is the figgy pudding mentioned in the carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. It’s similar to Christmas pudding, but includes figs as a key ingredient.

Serving Christmas Pudding with a Sprig of Holly

In some traditions, the Christmas pudding is decorated with a sprig of holly. The holly is said to represent the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, with the red berries symbolising the drops of blood.

Apart from this religious interpretation, holly also adds a vibrant touch of traditional Christmas colour to the pudding.

plate of christmas pudding with a serving spoon
Photo by Nik on Unsplash

The Tradition of “Ageing” the Pudding

It’s traditional to make the Christmas pudding well in advance of Christmas Day. Some families make their pudding on Stir-up Sunday, five weeks before Christmas.

Others go a step further, preparing their pudding a whole year in advance to let it age and enhance the flavours. It’s worth noting that the alcohol content in the pudding helps to preserve it over this long period.

Taking the Pudding for a Walk

In parts of Yorkshire, it was traditional to take the Christmas pudding for a walk before eating it. The pudding was placed on a plate, and then walked around the streets or even as far as the nearest town before returning home to be eaten.

The Christmas Pudding Race

There are several annual charity events called the The Christmas Pudding Race held around the UK. Participants, often in fancy dress, compete in relay races while balancing a Christmas pudding on a tray. 

Christmas Pudding: A Symbol of Christmas

Over time, the Christmas pudding has evolved from a simple medieval porridge into a symbol of Christmas celebration in Britain and other parts of the world.

Whether you prefer the traditional recipe or a modern variation, making and eating Christmas pudding remains a beloved festive tradition.

The Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding is a traditional British dessert rich in history and cultural significance, often made with thirteen ingredients symbolising Jesus and his twelve apostles, and served flambe-antly aflame.

The pudding, made weeks or even a year in advance, may include small tokens or “charms” for guests to find, and is frequently presented with a sprig of holly.

Its numerous traditions and modern adaptations continue to make it a central symbol of Christmas celebration in Britain and other parts of the world.

Read about more Christmas Traditions and Customs.