Christmas pudding, also known as plum pudding (because of the abundance of prunes), originated in England. It is traditionally made five weeks before Christmas, on or after the Sunday before Advent. That day was often deemed "Stir-up Sunday," and each family member or child in the household gave the pudding a stir and made a wish.
The rich and heavy pudding is boiled or steamed, made of a heavy mixture of fresh or dried fruit, nuts and sometimes suet, a raw beef or mutton fat. Vegetarian suet may also be used for a lighter taste. The pudding is very dark, almost black, and is saturated with brandy, dark beer, or other alcohols. The puddings used to be boiled in a "pudding cloth," but today they are usually made in basins.
Many households stirred silver coins (for wealth), tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbor) into the mixture, and when served, whoever got the lucky serving, would be able to keep the charm. When silver coins were not as readily available, the practice ended because people feared putting alloy coins in their pudding. Today small token coins and other objects are made just for this use.
After the pudding has been steamed, it is kept in a cool dry place for several weeks or longer. It will need steamed for a few more hours on the day it is served. There are different ways Christmas pudding is served. Some decorate it with a spray of holly, douse it in brandy or set it on fire. Many families present the pudding in the dark or bring it to the table ceremoniously, where it is met with a round of applause.
Christmas pudding is eaten with brandy butter, rum butter, hard sauce, cream, custard or with a caster sugar. Families sometimes save one pudding for another holiday, like Easter, or even the next Christmas. Many argue that this takes away from the flavor, but that a good pudding will keep that long.
While some still prefer home cooked puddings, ready-made and cooked puddings are now available. Higher quality shops do offer Christmas pudding comparable to homemade. Store bought puddings make great gifts for far-away family members and friends without the hours of work and preparation.
Here are some recipes for homemade Christmas pudding:
Christmas Pudding by Britain Express
Rich Christmas Pudding by bbc.co.uk
"Christmas Pudding" by Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.