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December 2020 ∙ Issue #237

Who’s Got the Sixpence? A Christmas Tradition Handed Down the Generations

Unearthing Treasures (Part III)



by Sally Sumner


Traditions at Christmas time have a long and varied history. Many are steeped in custom and religious significance and while some vary between families, their beliefs and even between countries, others are universally celebrated in a manner recognised by all.


Many a house around the world is decorated for the season with a Christmas tree laden with lights, ornaments and atop with an angel or star. In the 16th century German Christians are credited with starting this tradition when they would go out into quite often cold and snowy conditions and bring home an evergreen fir tree (Tannenbaum) and decorate it with candles. The first mention of a Christmas tree in England is in 1835 introduced by Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. Commercially produced artificially trees appeared towards the end of the 1800’s and these days, Christmas trees can be found in many shapes, colours, with or without lights and decorations to suit all.

Colours at Christmas times have traditionally been red, gold and green. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed in his crucifixion, gold was the first colour to be associated with Christmas, thought to be taken from the gift of Gold given at the Birth of Jesus by one of the three Wise Men green. Green symbolizing eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter.

For many families the food at Christmas time is full of traditions, whether it be a BBQ at the beach, seafood caught in an early morning family excursion or in the case of my family; a full table brimming with glazed ham, new potatoes from the garden, roast kumara, minted peas, turkey (don’t forget the bread sauce) and deserts. Pavlova, Trifle and my Nanny’s (grandmother) Christmas Pudding.

Nanny’s Christmas pudding has been made in my family for as long as I can remember both here and in the UK. Nanny was a remarkable woman and her recipe was even more so. I have never found anything like it anywhere else and it has been copied by hand into family recipe books and handed down from my Grandmother, my mother and now to me. This year I shall make it with my 3 teenagers and teach them. I can remember times in the kitchen as a child watching her make the pudding with “a glass for the pudding, a glass for me”. Looking at the recipe now, I can see how the Brandy and Guinness quantities have constantly been varied over the years!

Eggs, apples, cinnamon, sugar, suet, raisins, currants, flaked almonds, breadcrumbs, did I mention the Brandy and Guinness and more, all went into this pudding made over an entire afternoon with everyone having a stir and everyone making a wish.

Then the most important part. After everything had been mixed to Nanny’s satisfaction, dished into the large round Pyrek pudding bowl lined up on the kitchen table she would magic up a silver thrupenny bits and put one into the pudding before covering with exactly the right sized piece of foil and tying up with yellow string before steaming for 5-6 hours before storing until Christmas.

The smell of this steamed pudding in the early days of December conjured up memories every year of Christmas past and the one to come. On the day the puddings would be steamed and amongst the hustle and bustle of the day, the anticipation would grow as family arrived and the smells of the Christmas feast grew stronger.

Turned out onto a gleaming white plate, lit with a flambe of brandy, the delight in eyes young and old was palpable. Everyone wanted some, they had all helped make it and smelt it! and because there was that age-old question who would get the Silver Thrupenny Bit in their pudding that was the promise of a year’s worth of good luck from Christmas joy.


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elocal Digital Edition – December 2020 (#237)

elocal Digital Edition
December 2020 (#237)