Festive fun at the stirring of the Christmas Pudding ceremony
30th November 2021
Chelsea Pensioners and staff gathered together in the Great Hall on the last day of November to usher in the start of Advent with the first of the Royal Hospital’s annual Christmas traditions.
The ceremony of the stirring of the Christmas Pudding, which started over 80 years ago, is now a much-loved occasion. The Chelsea Pensioners were particularly pleased to be able to attend in person after last year’s pared back celebrations, says Quartermaster and host Nicky Mott:
“It’s a wonderful start to the celebrations. Last year it was only staff but we all dressed up and filmed it, so the Pensioners could enjoy it in the wards. I was a moose!”
The Pensioners are pleased to be able to attend in person. It’s Colin’s second Christmas here and he’s enjoying the contrast:
“Last Christmas we had to isolate in our ward quite a lot. I’m looking forward to more freedom this Christmas. This is my first time stirring the pudding. The Great Hall is lovely, isn’t it?”
The event began with the popular Royal Hospital band, led by Captain Phil Shannon on his violin, playing Deck the Halls, to get everyone in a festive mood. Euphonium player Johnny, resplendent in the band’s scarlet uniform, was relishing every moment:
"I’ve done this many times. It’s brilliant – it brings in the spirit of Christmas. Everyone sings very well under the Quartermaster. I’ve been here 11 years and Christmas is unbelievable.”
Following a warm welcome from the Quartermaster and a blessing especially written by Chaplain Steven Brookes for the occasion, the mixing of the pudding began.
The Pensioners and staff took turns to add ingredients to a giant ‘mixing bowl’, starting with flour and finishing with generous helpings of sherry and port.
Bill, who added the lemon peel, says that childhood Christmases were dominated by services as his father was a vicar. He’s delighted to be able to take part in all the fun of a Royal Hospital Christmas, which he says is “good because everyone gets together.”
Close behind is ‘new girl’ Anne, who adds the glace cherries. Anne says she loves the eccentricity of “the old traditional stuff” here.
Terry, who tips in the orange peel, has been to the ceremony a few times but says this is “the best I’ve seen”. While Don, who has been to every stirring ceremony since he started, appreciates the opportunity to participate and jokes that “it’s good because I get a free beer!”
A taste of tradition
Once all the ingredients have been added, Sachin, the Hospital’s Head of Catering, stirs the mixture:
“I get to cook the pudding” he says, “it’s great to be part of the tradition”.
After the ceremony, the mixture goes to the kitchen, where it will stand for 24 hours before being transferred to pudding basins, boiled or steamed and wrapped and stored until Christmas. On the big day, the cooking of the puddings is finished ready to be served to the Pensioners with the traditional trimmings.
The occasion ended with crackers, conversation and more favourite Christmas songs and carols, finishing with a rousing rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful.
The last word goes to Chelsea Pensioner Ron, who attended in his wheelchair:
“It’s my first time here but not my last. I love the mixing and the chance to gather together.”
So what does it take to create enough Christmas Pudding to feed 300 Chelsea Pensioners? We've shared the recipe below: