There is a great entry on Stir-Up Pudding available on Wikipedia.
When I started collecting Liturgical Cookbooks, I was delighted to read the version of the Stir-up Pudding story recounted by Florence Berger in Cooking For Christ: The Liturgical Year in the Kitchen (Des Moines, IA: National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1949):
…It is a tale which goes far back into [pre-Christian] times when the Celtic god, Dagda, lived in the hills of Britain. Dagda was the god of plenty. When he saw the Sun turn in its course to come closer to the [E]arth with each lengthening night, he decided to hold a festival. So he built a great fire under an enormous black cauldron called Undry. In the cauldron he placed the most delicious fruits of the earth and all other good things. There was meal (grain) and meat and fruit. Slowly he cooked it and spiced it and tasted it. Dagda was pleased with his plum porridge and was ready to rejoice at the Yuletide.
The recipe was passed down through the years. When Christianity came [to Britain] the recipe was not changed. The dish of honor, though, was dedicated not [just] to the Sun, but [also] to Christ, “the true light who comes to enlighten the world plunged into darkness.” When feudalism came, the recipe was not changed, but it took a fat purse to pay for this recipe which included legs of beef, several beef tongues, fine bread, raisins of the sun, currants, prunes, lemons, nutmegs, mace, cloves, red wine and sack [British mead, flavored and bittered with herbs]. When the nineteenth century came, the meat was cut to suet and the plums fell by the wayside. Even today the pudding stands resplendent, topped with its sprig of holly and blazing with burning brandy. In it the fruits of the [E]arth bring all their luscious goodness to the birth feast of their King” (pp. 3-4).
The whole story is charming–even though every “fact” provided by Ms. Berger can be contradicted in other “histories” of Stir-Up Pudding. Did you notice my editing of her story [words or letters inserted in brackets]? For way too many centuries the Christian tradition has downplayed or denied the continuity between the experiences of the Sacred before the introduction of Christianity and the “Sacraments” and sacramentals of the Christian tradition. But, as any good student of Thomas Aquinas can tell you, “Grace builds on nature:” it does not destroy it–Grace acknowledges and builds on the Sacred that is already present in all of creation because the Creator is present to it sustaining it in existence and loving it. (Look later this year for a post on “panentheism” which is NOT the same as “pantheism” –the fear of which separated many Christians from the experience of the sacredness of Creation).
Take another look at the last sentence of the quote: “In [this pudding] the fruits of [E]arth bring all their luscious goodness to the birth feast of their King.” Now there’s the Mystery: it was always present–even in pre-Christian times! Earth herself has always shared the best of her fruits to celebrate birth and sustain life–even before humans were watching the sky. Then our ancestors told the story of the pudding because they experienced wonder and awe [= recognition of the Sacred] in the magnificence of the annual phenomenon of the Winter Solstice and they couldn’t let this “event” pass without paying attention and celebrating the “anniversary” of the birth of the Sun.
Most of us in the 21st century have no idea how amazing it is to experience the solar cycle “naturally”–without “artificial, electric-powered, light.” Imagine stirring up a pudding a month before a feast and waiting for the “longest night” to pass before dousing “the best fruits of Earth” in brandy and lighting the pudding afire to celebrate the life that comes from the Sun and from the Son. We’d certainly cut back our carbon footprints! And then we could turn the lights on the Christmas tree and REALLY experience the wonder and awe that make life worth living to the full!