You ever notice in Christmas carols things that you sing about but have no idea what it is? I know you’ve all sang ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ with the line ‘Oh bring us a figgy pudding’ without knowing what a figgy is nor why we insist on not leaving ‘until we get some’. Must be some seriously good pudding, so I thought I’d check it out.
The British have Christmas traditions that we U.S. folk have forgotten over the centuries. One is to serve Christmas Pudding , also called figgy or plum pudding, during the Christmas season. It started out as a mince pie in the 1400s, with several kinds of meat along with dried fruits and wine. The pie was actually made to preserve meat at the end of the growing season (important back before refrigeration), and was traditionally eaten at a celebration called the Harvest Festival. By the 1700s the meat content diminished and the sweet content increased until by the early 1800s, the celebratory dish became a dessert with flour, fruits, sugar, and spices, and was referred to as “plum pudding” and eaten at Christmastime. The term figgy probably came from an early version of the dish that had mashed figs thickened with bread.
Calling the dish a pudding is kind of strange, because the modern version is more like cake than pudding, and least to us Yanks. It’s made by steaming rather than baking, and chock full of dried fruits, nuts, and spices. It’s traditional to turn the lights out, pour brandy over the pudding and set it alight. A sprig of holly is often placed on it for decoration, and it’s served with butter, cream, or custard.
Back in the old days there was a lot of symbolism involved in making Christmas pudding. It had to be made by the 25th Sunday after Trinity Sunday (50th day after Easter); it had to have 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and his Disciples; every member of the family was to take a turn at stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon, stirring from east to west in honor of the three kings; the brandy was set aflame to represent Christ’s passion; a sprig of holly was used as a garnish to remind us of Christ’s crown of thorns. Holly was also thought to bring good luck and to have healing powers.
There are recipes galore on the internet if you want to make one and surprise carolers by actually giving them their figgy pudding. Plus, old traditions are kind of nice. Christmas blessings on you and yours.