The Christmas cake story

The traditional Christmas cake is the merger of two dishes traditionally eaten around the Christmas period, plum porridge or pottage and the Twelfth Night cake. Plum porridge, which is also the origin of the Christmas Pudding, was traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, and is first cited in 1573. Later the oatmeal was replaced with butter, wheat flour and eggs. At first it was boiled, like porridge, but as more people got ovens at home, it began to be baked. Later still, dried fruit of the season and spices, symbolic of those brought to the baby Jesus by the Wise Men, were added, and the cake was eaten at the Feast of the Epiphany (celebrating the coming of the Wise Men) on 6th January, Twelfth Night. During the 1830s, Christmas festivities increased in prominence and the cake 'moved' to around Christmas Day, and bakers began to decorate the cakes with snow scenes.

A couple of traditions surround the cake. One is 'Stir Up' - the last Sunday before Advent was the traditional day for making Christmas cakes and puddings, stirring up the mixture - partly because the Church of England Prayer Book Collect (prayer) for the Sunday includes the words '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'

The second tradition is 'feeding the cake' when alcohol - sherry, whiskey or brandy - is added to the cake in small amounts through small holes in the cake.