The following article appeared in the Christmas 1994 Edition of St. Jude's Journal. It is obvious that the writer, whose name is not given, had fond memories of life in St. Joseph's Parish, especially during the Christmas season.

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MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS PAST . . . .

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Sixty years ago (i.e. 1930's), at this time of the year, the parish of St. Joseph's in Wigan was very busy.

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As the Church, schools and homes were linked together in preparation for Christmas, each element of community life contributed to the sense of mounting excitement. In those days, there was little money to spend on 'extras' and Christmas was not the commercial bonanza that it is today.

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Children's treats were far removed from what they are now, but in those days the children didn't expect much. Most of them would wake up on Christmas morning to find a stocking filled with an orange, an apple, a few nuts complete with shells, maybe a small book and a box of crayons, a ball or a skipping rope, and a new penny. Simple boxed games like Ludo or Snakes and Ladders were popular, as were the little mechanical toys that were beginning to be mass-produced, but the spirit of family celebration spread through all the preparations.
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As the children practised carols and Nativity plays, made their decorations and ended the school term with a party, their homes and the church would be given an extra sparkle to prepare for the event and the Advent liturgy created breathless anticipation as the Feast drew near.
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Church choirs practised the Christmas hymns and St. Joseph's had a great reputation as a musical parish to uphold. Earlier in this century, it was the custom in Wigan for young people to meet in each other's homes for musical evenings, especially after Benediction on Sundays, and many were to discover their talent in that field.
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A few among them became semi-professional singers and sang in churches and at concerts throughout the area. A member of that elite group was Tom Atherton, who had a beautiful tenor voice and lived in Caroline Street until he died around 1918.
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Even after the cinema became a cheap and fashionable form of entertainment, music and its social scene continued to be an important source of recreation. Groups of singers from St. Joseph's travelled around the local Catholic clubs raising money for Father Brown's new church near Leigh, after he had moved from Wigan.
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During the 1950's, there began a drive to raise funds for a new church in the Worsley Mesnes area, and parish groups banded together to organise events in St. Joseph's Club. Potato-pie Suppers and Bingo sessions were always well attended long before the time the commercial leisure organisations appeared. The Club would be filled to capacity with people coming from all quarters of the town to enjoy an evening out. Often there would be standing room only, with the stairs, as well as the main room packed full.
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Married couples worked together to keep the proceedings going, scrubbing floors, selling tickets, preparing and serving the food and enjoying themselves in the process. Gerry Farrell, Jim O'Brien, Gerard Hodkinson, Bill Morgan, Bill Quinlan and their wives were just a few.
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When there was a Christmas Fair, some would travel to Bolton to buy glass and crockery to stock the stalls; others would make Christmas cakes, Yule logs and mince pies. A parishioner of St. Jude's reflecting on those times said: "It was hard work, but it was worth it. We made lasting friendships, raised a lot of money for the church and had loads of fun. They were happy days."
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As the last days of Advent arrived, the tension mounted. All the house cleaning would be completed and gifts bought. Only the buying and preparing of food would be left until the last two days.
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With no fridges to store the food in advance, those days of hectic shopping and cooking increased the build-up of excitement. A bottle of sherry would appear on the dresser, to be opened for neighbours and friends who called to wish "all the best". There might be a drop of the hard stuff tucked away in the cupboard - but that was strictly for medicinal purposes only! If alcohol accompanied the Christmas meal, it would most likely be a jug of beer from the 'Outdoor'.
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The dinner, itself, would be similar to what is eaten now, with the possible exception of turkey, which was expensive and not as easily available as it is today. Families would choose between fat geese or capons, a joint of roast beef or a succulent leg of pork with crisp crackling. The aroma of fresh, home-made stuffings, pickles and sauces, ready to place in pretty china basins and dishes, hinted at the delights in store.
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The little family crib would be taken from its wrappers to stand on the dresser with the sherry and the Christmas cake. Made weeks earlier, the cake would now be dressed with its topping of almond paste, thick white icing, a little Father Christmas figure and trimmed with a paper frill. Cold winters were a boon because the food would 'keep' longer and the jellies would set more quickly!
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There was always a brisk trade in fish on Christmas Eve, because it was a day of fasting and abstinence. Last-minute shoppers who went to Wigan Market on that day would be entertained by the band of the Salvation Army playing carols at the bottom of the Makinson Arcade, to raise money for their charitable work.
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The whole Market area, inside and out, would be permeated with mingling drifts of Christmas smells. From early morning, when farmers arrived to set out their stalls on the Square and serious shoppers scurried around, until late afternoon when the last casual drifters finally left (some already filled with Christmas cheer), the place would be thronged with people.
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The 'locals' would be back home by mid-morning to get on with the cooking and to put finishing touches to their preparations. Only when all the jobs were satisfactorily completed could anyone relax.
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If young people went out, it would be to dance at the Empress Ballroom, admission by ticket only on Christmas Eve, but the jollifications there would be finished by 10.30 p.m., to give everyone time to get home for Midnight Mass.
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After the sombre liturgy of Advent, matched by the rigorous preparations in the homes, the celebrations began with that Mass. All through the town, Catholic churches would be packed to the doors, with congregations spilling into the aisles, porches and out into the streets. St. Joseph's altar would be ablaze with the light of candles, gleaming white linen and fresh flowers, with the singing of choir and congregation soaring to the heavens in praise and glory. It was always a great occasion as the people entered fully into the spirit of the celebration; an experience to remain forever in the heart.
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In the words of one who remembers those days with pleasure: "For me, it was the high point of Christmas; Midnight Mass was Christmas. The whole ceremony was an explosion of joy and happiness. It was wonderful!"
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