With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.
The countdown to Christmas is a subjective one. Personally, I would prefer not to give it a second thought until at least the 1st of December. In my recent call for topics to be discussed during this week of #NaNoWriMo I received a call for advice. Rebecca Oliver asked on LinkedIn – “What about the etiquette of Christmas – when is it proper to start eating mince pies?”
It is my assumption that we now begin to celebrate the silly season earlier than we ever have before. I grew up to tales from my grandparents of going to bed as a child on Christmas eve without a decoration in sight – only to wake up the next day to the miraculous arrival of a fully decorated tree and all the trimmings.
So what of the food? Stir up sunday seems to appear in the late 16th century with a reading in church used on the last Sunday before advent.
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is thought that these words would herald the beginning of the preperations for Christmas celebrations – the women and daughters of the household would then return home to make the pudding – with plenty of time given to it to mature for the big day.
Jump forward to 1653 and Oliver Cromwell’s parliament build on the existing concerns of the court of Charles I by banning the “gluttonous…and ungodly” celebrations of the twelve days of Christmas currently seen in this period. At this time delicacies such as mince pies still contained red meat, dried fruit and spices and were eaten all year round by those who could afford the ingredients. Indeed many of the foodstuffs we now associate solely with Christmas were not yet part of the yuletime activities.
By the 18th century the rowdy traditions of twelfth night were back in place and spawned the wide spread popularity of the dense Twelfth Night cake that would go on to be our modern day Christmas cake. It was not until the Victorian era that many of our current Christmas traditions arrived.
So, how does this answer the question of Christmas food etiquette? It tells me that instead of beginning our celebrations before Bonfire night has passed, perhaps we can wait until stir it up sunday before working our way through the first batch of mince pies. After all, tradition says that we are allowed to continue celebrating until January 5th. That’s an awful lot of mincemeat to get through.