Stir It Up
I recently learned of a tradition in the Anglican church that celebrates the final Sunday before Advent, as “Stir-Up Sunday.”
Apparently the name “Stir-Up Sunday” comes from the opening words of the collect, or prayer, for the day in the Anglican prayer book, the Book of Common Prayer, Stir-up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people.
But what interests me about “Stir-Up Sunday” isn’t its origins but how it’s celebrated. Stir-Up Sunday is traditionally the day when British families gather in the kitchen to make Christmas pudding, with each family member taking a turn to “stir up” the ingredients.
Christmas pudding is an oh-so-British holiday treat dating back to medieval times that’s made by boiling down fruits with egg, shortening, and spices (You might know it by another name, “figgy pudding,” featured in the Christmas carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas). It takes several days to congeal, so the idea is that you make it far in advance so it will be ready to enjoy at Christmas dinner.
Now, I’m not suggesting that your family try your hand at Christmas pudding this year—though that could be a lot of fun. But I am suggesting that what’s behind this tradition: gathering with loved ones to prepare for the coming Advent and Christmas season, and doing so by making foods that are special and meaningful to all of you (most families have their own Christmas pudding recipe that’s handed down through the generations), well these are traditions worth considering. In fact, I suspect many of you already have a practice of doing so, though we do it by another name: Thanksgiving.
It just so happens that Stir-Up Sunday falls on either the Sunday before or after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving kicks-off what’s come to be known as “the holiday season,” and there’s certainly a purely commercial way to approach this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there’s also a deeply spiritual way. You might say that Christmas completes what Thanksgiving begins.
At Thanksgiving we gather with friends and loved ones and celebrate all our many blessings; recognizing that we are blessed with much more than we deserve. And in a sense, this is where Christian faith begins: understanding that God is the source of all life and not “we ourselves,” as the Psalmist puts it.
So we might say that Thanksgiving prepares us Advent, which prepares us for Christmas. We begin with thanks for what God has given and end with wonder at what God has done. This isn’t just an approach to the holidays, but to the life of faith.
So go ahead and stir something up, be it Christmas pudding or sweet-potato casserole. Dust off those decorations and pull those family recipes out of the drawer. Get the Spirit moving! And get others involved. See what beautiful and delicious things you can make together, because when it comes down to it, that’s what incarnation is all about.
Pass the foggy pudding,