Eagle-eyed readers might recall that I wrote a World War Two Christmas Miscellany post some years ago, examining the experiences of Christmas on the home front during that conflict – and since I have also been writing a series of posts on the First World War, I thought it would be interesting to try the same for 1914-1918 too.
This post mainly focuses on the wartime Christmas experiences of Londoners (mostly because I am a Londoner and I have posted about this city, its history and my fascination with it on many previous occasions), but I am sure those resident in other British towns, cities, and even smaller settlements would have had similar festive seasons and felt similar emotions during the war years to those living and working in the capital – these were, as you will see, difficult times for everybody, both at home and on the front line. Indeed, I was particularly interested to note just how bleak and, quite frankly, how depressing wartime Christmases became as the conflict progressed.
For more information on the subject, see the ‘Further reading, listening and sources’ section at the end of the post – and I would also be interested to hear from you if you have any further details of World War One home front Christmases in London, or from elsewhere in the country. You can leave a comment here or get hold of me on Twitter.
By December 1914, the oft-voiced view that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’ had already proved to be sadly mistaken – although it was unlikely that anyone preparing for the festive season that year could have possibly imagined there would actually be another three wartime Christmases yet to come before the return of peace.
I’ve written previously about strange and interesting seasonal traditions, but here’s one I don’t think I’ve ever covered before….
A Twitter discussion last week about the wonder of proper British puddings (seriously, they really are the best in the world when done right) reminded me that today is Stir-Up Sunday. In this age of ready meals and 24 hour supermarkets, that may not mean much to you, but for many families it has long been the traditional start of the preparations for the Christmas season.
Stir-Up Sunday falls on the last Sunday before the start of Advent (as calculated by the Anglican church), and although it began life as a tradition loosely associated with religion and the impact of the church calendar on the everyday lives of ordinary people, it soon developed to have both religious and secular aspects – much as Christmas itself does in our modern world. Despite this tradition only really stretching back a couple of hundred years in its best-known form, the name ‘Stir-Up Sunday’ itself is derived from a prayer that dates back to the 16th century Book Of Common Prayer. Still said in a modern form every year on the last Sunday before Advent, the original version reads:
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.
That’s all very well, but what exactly does Stir-Up Sunday involve in reality? It’s the day on which households would traditionally gather to make the Christmas pudding for the year, having been reminded by the prayer said in church that morning – with each member of the family taking it in turns to ‘stir up’ the mixture and make a private, secret wish. In some traditions, there is a distinctly religious element to this, as it is believed that the pudding mixture must be made with twelve or thirteen ingredients (to represent Jesus and his disciples) and stirred from East to West (right to left, or clockwise) to honour the Three Wise Men of the Nativity.