There is almost no tradition I don't like, which is probably a good thing because I'm a pastor and come from a family that loves them. Suffice it to say, churches have lots of traditions and rituals too. While we may not realize how significant these practices are, they actually provide continuity, togetherness, spiritual richness, and joy.
Imagine my immense surprise to discover there is a tradition preceding Advent (the four-week season of preparation for Christmas) about which I had never heard.
I was flipping through a few holiday home and style magazines I'd bought when I found mention of Stir-up Sunday. Unexpectedly, the writer actually mentioned the word "Advent' in the article. I looked back at the cover and realized I was reading The English Home magazine.
"...Stir-up Sunday - the last Sunday before Advent, 25 November this year ....."
I immediately went online and found Stir-up Sunday "...is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect (prayer) for the day in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people".(Wikipedia)
My heart began to beat faster. There is a culture out there which actually pauses to enjoy and lengthen the season of Advent before leaping into Christmas the week after Halloween?
One of the most unwelcome issues I have with the season of Christmas as practiced in the U.S. is the lack of restraint. We have no sense of waiting, which is precisely what we need to be doing. Waiting is good for impatient people, and it is not only good for adults, it is good for children. Even if one has no faith at all, learning to wait is a human discipline everyone should learn.
Indeed. The Brits, who are still dominated by the Anglican Church, which gave rise to my Methodist faith, are solidly Advent-loving practitioners. Some begin to "deck the halls" the first day of December, but others wait to put up their tree until the week before Christmas to make certain the tree remains fresh through the Twelve Days of Christmas. The underlying belief is that one should carefully wade into waiting as prescribed by Advent, rather than storming through it like a mad shopper on a Black Friday spree.
For the first time in my life--and that of my family's--we will be practicing Stir-up Sunday tomorrow, November 25.
While one may go full British and bake a Christmas cake or a Dickens' Christmas pudding worthy of Ms. Cratchit's plum, the point is to stir together, mix together, share the work together on a particularly difficult recipe.
For our part, I've selected fruitcake cookies. I don't particularly like fruitcake, but my step-father's fruitcake cookies were a tradition that no one has taken up. Thinking of those cookies, great with coffee, and better as they aged, I also remember him and my mother as they stirred around in their kitchen, whether making these cookies, or pressure cooking the veggies from their large garden.
Find a challenging recipe for your Stir-up Sunday, something everyone can help stir, something that creates bonds, memories, and reminds us to wait.
In case you want to try the fruitcake cookies, have at it and be prepared to stir!
1 cup of melted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup strong bourbon (My stepdad used Wild Turkey)
6 slices candied pineapple, chopped
1 cup candied red cherries, chopped
1 cup candied green cherries, chopped
2 cups chopped dates
1-15 oz. package of golden raisins
7 cups chopped pecans
Mix butter and sugar well. Add eggs and beat in. Combine the dry ingredients, then add the butter/sugar mixture to the dry ingredients. Alternate with the milk, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the bourbon, fruit and the nuts and mix well and long. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 300F for 18 minutes or until golden. Don't over bake.
Worth the wait.