A merry Manchester Christmas - seasonal greetings from a sparkling city

PUBLISHED: 00:16 15 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:26 20 February 2013

A merry Manchester Christmas - seasonal greetings from a sparkling city

A merry Manchester Christmas - seasonal greetings from a sparkling city

Patrick O'Neill sends seasonal greetings from a sparkling city PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Christmas is coming and only in Manchester could this happen: as the local paper punningly put it the claus are out. Santa wars return to town.

Forget the recent soccer derby epic, watched by millions worldwide, the real Christmas clash between City and United happens on December 4, when fans of the two clubs stage rival fun runs, dressed as Santas to jog around Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium.

But because this is Christmas and this is Manchester, the money goes to charity and for one day only peace and goodwill will reign united over Britains premier soccer city.

Not more football! I can hear the soccer widows cry. But wait a moment. Can you name the citys top attraction this month? The Bridgewater Hall, Albert in his square? Or even my favourite, The Film Exchange on Quay Street where I interviewed everyone from George Best to Pat Phoenix, and filed theatre reviews about Lord Olivier to Rudolf Nureyev, performing across the road at the Opera House?

No. Manchesters top tourist attractions this month are the citys Christmas markets. They are estimated to have brought in over 50 million to the citys economy and attracted 1.3 million visitors last year. They deservedly won the large tourism event of the year at the annual Manchester Tourism Awards.

Theres a World Christmas Market on Brazennose Street, a European Christmas Market in Albert Square, a German one in St Anns Square, and, ooh-la-la, a French Market on King Street. And while youre in town, check out the citys Christmas lights: a sight for sore shoppers, you might say.

Is there a panto in town? Oh yes there is. Louie Spence, star of Sky TVs Pineapple Dance Studios and Louie Spences Showbusiness, will play the Princes aide-de-camp Dandini while singer and actress Suzanne Shaw will take the title role of Cinderella, in this years festive spectacular at the Opera House.

And what about some Christmas music? Try The Messiah; White Christmas; Carols by Candlelight; or even the Last Night of the Christmas Proms at The Bridgewater Hall and sing, sing with a chorus of angels.

Make no mistake, 2011 was the year Greater Manchester made it big time in Britain and beyond. Apart from City and United, Lancashire Cricket Club was crowned county champions for the first time since 1934. The Trafford Centre was voted large tourism retailer of the year in the local awards.

And the arrival of the studios at Media City has established new headquarters for BBC North West, BBC Sport, Childrens TV, and iconic shows such as Match of the Day, Blue Peter, Dragons Den and Question of Sport.

After 40 years reporting on Northern showbusiness, (battling the blinkered bias of journalists who never venture north of Fleet Street), the greatest satisfaction I got this year was the howl of horror from Southern newspaper hacks, when they realised that somebody had stolen their TV teddy, and moved it to Manchester.

But photographer John Cocks and I believe we got closer to the real spirit of Christmas with the children of Didsbury Church of England Primary School. Here they perform a nativity play with a cast of over 100: including, shepherds, wise men, angels, Joseph, Mary and innkeeper to recall the time when away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. Since the school is approximately 50pc Christian, 20 pc Muslim and 20pc of other faiths or none, according to headmaster Matt Whitehead this is a celebration for everyone.

They also visit the Church of St James for traditional carols. Here we met the rector, the Rev Dr Nick Bundock. (And before you run away with any strange ideas, his doctorate is a Phd in Molecular Biology.)

St James, which is 775 years old this year, is the second oldest church in Manchester (the oldest apparently being Manchester Cathedral.) On December 18 the St James Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has a special significance. It will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible (1611). The readings will come from a Testament penned in the language of heaven.

On Christmas Day, Nick is also scheduled to present the Christmas morning service on Radio Four FM. This comes from his other responsibility which is broadcasting from a purpose-built studio in the vestry of Emmanuel Church on Wilmslow Road. Nick is one of a team of 25 regular presenters of the BBCs 15 minute Daily Service. After 80 years continuous broadcasting it is the oldest radio show of its kind in the world.

And what does Christmas mean to Nick. God with us he said, thus in three words succinctly summing up the whole Christian message.
Coming back to earth, Didsburys shops, pubs, and restaurants will be packed to the gills with Christmas goodies, turkeys, holly, ivy, plum pudding, carol singers, mellow revellers and mulled wine, probably making this the closest you can get to being in a real Cheshire village, without actually crossing the Mersey.

Next year Didsbury is planning a street fair, covered market, barbecue and party to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee in June.
And on that jubilant note, Cheshire Life picture editor John Cocks and I would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.


The Manchester Museum has more than 400 live frogs, insects and reptiles.

Manchester was the site of the worlds first railway station, it hosted the first meeting of the Trade Union Congress, is the place where scientists first split the atom and developed the first programmable computer.

The Peterloo Massacre in 1819 saw 15 deaths and several hundred injured.

Bands connected with Manchester include The Smiths, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Swing Out Sister, A Certain Ratio, New Order, Oasis and, of course, Stone Roses.

Beetham Tower at a height of 168 metres (551 ft), is the tallest skyscraper in the United Kingdom outside of London, the tallest building in Manchester and the eighth-tallest building in the UK. Visible from ten English counties it is the tallest residential building in the country. It also houses the Hilton Hotel.

Literature connected to Manchester includes Elizabeth Gaskells Mary Barton. Friedrich Engels was living in when he wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England.

The University of Manchester is the largest full-time non-collegiate university in the United Kingdom.

Manchester Citys Maine Road hosted the record Football League crowd (84,260) when they played Arsenal in 1948 and the record provincial attendance (84,569) when they played Stoke in the FA Cup in 1935.

In 1745 it is said that Bonny Prince Charlies Jacobite rebels crossed the Mersey at Didsbury.

In 1889 The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded at Didsbury.

The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Cheshire Life

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