The Royal Hospital Chelsea celebrates a number of Christmas traditions each year, some dating back to when the Royal Hospital first opened its doors to Army veterans in 1692.
Here we delve into the origins of these traditions, starting with the longest standing tradition of all...
The Ceremony of the Christmas Cheeses (read about this year's event)
This tradition dates back to the opening of the Royal Hospital in 1692, when a local cheesemonger donated cheese to the “Red Breasts of Chelsea” for Christmas. This tradition has continued over three centuries and is still a highlight of the Chelsea Pensioners' social calendar.
The event, fittingly organised since 1959 by Dairy UK, sees over 60 varieties of cheese donated by over 27 cheesemongers nationwide. Every year the largest cheese is ceremonially cut by a Chelsea Pensioner with a sword. The cheese is distributed to all of the Chelsea Pensioners at meal times during the run up to Christmas.
The Stirring of the Christmas Pudding
For the past 80 years the Chelsea Pensioners have gathered together to participate in the annual ‘Stirring of the Christmas Pudding’ ceremony. Typically, the Pensioners mix enough ingredients for 75 individual Christmas puddings. The list of ingredients include: 70 eggs, nearly three kilograms of flour, five kilograms of currants, 14 pints of Guinness and two bottles of: rum, sherry, brandy and port.
After a blessing of the ingredients by the Royal Hospital’s Chaplain, each Chelsea Pensioner at the ceremony adds an ingredient to a large mixing bowl and then takes turns to stir the mixture with a large wooden panel. Once all of the ingredients are thoroughly stirred, the mixture is taken to the Royal Hospital kitchen where it sits for a day, before it is divided up into smaller puddings that the Chelsea Pensioners will enjoy over the festive period.
The Ceremony of the Christmas Cake
This ceremony has been a tradition for almost 70 years, beginning in 1949, and is a symbol of the enduring friendship between the UK and Australia.
Each year a sizeable Christmas cake is donated to the Chelsea Pensioners by a different State of Australia. It is cut each year during the event by a Chelsea Pensioner with the Royal Hospital’s ceremonial sword. Previous cake designs have included a fortress and a cake cut out in the shape of Australia.
The cake is divided up and put out over the Christmas period so all of the Chelsea Pensioners can enjoy a piece.