Today has been a VERY rainy Sunday here in my corner of the world. I can't remember the last time I was literally soaked to the skin but today I got absolutely drenched. It was the Manchester Italian Whit Walks this afternoon and the band that I play for was marching with a church from Ancoats. I'd forgotten to bring my rain jacket so had to march in just my uniform jacket and within a couple of minutes I was soaked to the skin and my shoes were squelching! Luckily the rain did stop in the end and the sun came out but it was a shame that it didn't do it before we'd set out as all the Italian ladies had very ornate and detailed outfits on and they got ruined.
Our band does a lot of marches, especially around Whit (although technically speaking, Whit Week was a few weeks ago!) but I think the Italian Whit Walks are my favourite (apart from Whit Friday, but that's a different story altogether!) because the streets are packed with spectators and they all cheer as we go past :) There's always a really great atmosphere and a really good turnout.
The Whit Walks are an annual tradition, especially around the eastern regions of Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. The film "East is East" starts off with a Whit Walk procession with banners and bands so if you've seen that film, that gives you a bit of an idea of what it's like! Traditionally, these take place during the first week after Pentecost, roughly 7 weeks after Easter but in recent times some of the churches have held their Whit Walks outside of Whit Week. The small town where I live, always walks on Whit Friday (see here and here for pictures) but the next town walks on the 3rd Sunday in June. I'm not really sure why that is?!?
The first Whit Walks took place in around 1800 and were a "walk of witness" with people turning out to show their allegiance to their church. The different denominations used to always walk on different days, e.g. Protestants walked on Sundays, Catholics on Mondays etc but this has died out as the roads have become busier and now the walks seem to be multi-denominational. Another tradition was having new clothes for Whit and I remember my mam used to always make sure that my sister and me had new dresses, cardigans and white sandals for the procession. She'd put our hair in "rags" the night before so we had ringlets (even though my hair's naturally curly) and I remember they used to be really uncomfortable to sleep on! After the procession we would see all our family and they would always give us money for our piggy bank! This was only about 20 years ago but again, this seems to have died out a bit; at some of the Whit Walks I went to this year, people were walking in trackies and trainers. I think the whole thing is quite localised as my other half was brought up about 3 miles away from me but never took part in Whit Walks or Whit Friday and is a bit bemused by the whole thing and the people I work with in Liverpool had never heard about it before! I think they think I'm a bit mad.....
Nowadays, the churches march to a central meeting point in the town for a church service (in Manchester this is held at Albert Square), usually accompanied by a brass band before walking back to the church, where there will be refreshments :) Each church will have a big banner which is carried by members of the congregation and sometimes smaller banners as well, with ribbons on, that are held by the children who are walking. Occasionally a church will also have a Rosebud Queen who is a young girl chosen from the congregation or Brownie pack if they have one. I remember my sister was once chosen to be our church's Rosebud and she was devastated because it meant she had to wear a dress!!!
Although the processions in Manchester are quite big, they are nothing compared to what they used be like a few years ago. I'm 29 now but I remember there being thousands of people taking part when I was a kid. We used to have big carnivals every year in all the towns near where I live, but these have all stopped now because they can't get people to take part or help run them. I really hope that the tradition of Whit Walks doesn't go the same way as it is one of my favourites!
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