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                              WHIT WEEK PENTECOST WALKS

 

In Manchester, as with much of the UK, Catholic schools oblige on their student children to march for the school to celebrate the religious Whit-Week festival. This is the basis of the Bank Holiday celebrated in the UK on the last Monday in May.

 

Whitsuntide, or Pentecost, aka, Whit-Sunday, representing the miracle of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and his disciples. (Acts 2; 1).

 

Though now an atheist, I was raised as a Catholic, so I was expected to take part in the procession, which I hated.  Apart from struggling with my own faith, I found the new shoes bough by my parents for me to march in had not been broken in, and I was expected to march for up to five miles in them. (The walks were an excuse to buy new Sunday best clothes and shoes for kids).

 

The walk would go on seemingly forever, through an admittedly impressive crowd waving flags and cheering as we went, but the blistering heat was always insufferable (I never remember marching once in the rain).

 

After the march, my parents would head for the pub, into which my sister and I were not allowed. We would find ourselves stuck outside, and people would pass bags of crisps and a bottle of coke through to us. Our parents would enjoy themselves all night while we sat bored witless outside like this.

 

Strangely, today I look back on the walks with some nostalgia, - I saw a whit Week walk recently and it was a very low-key affair with very few schools taking part. When I was a Catholic (up to 1971) the processions were huge. I find it strangely sad to see the tradition crumble, though I am glad that fewer children suffer and endure the ‘death march’ trek as I once had to.

 

                                    THE BOLTON WHITMANITES.

 

In the late 1980’s I was involved in a local rambler’s society (The Peak & Northern Footpath Society) where I learned of the Bolton Whitmanites. These were a group of fans of American poet, Walt Whitman, who were based in Bolton in the 1880’s, and who had correspondence with supporters of the great man in The States, but who never met him. Every Whit Sunday, the Bolton Whitmanites went for a trek up Bolton's formidable Winter Hill to recite his poetry to one another at the summit.  The pun on the name Whitman and Whit Week was obvious, and one the great Trancendentalist would have appreciated. For a few glorious years, I was part of the Rambler’s group Centenary celebration revival of the tradition, which was great fun.

 

Arthur Chappell

 

LINKS –Whitsuntide on Wikipedia  -  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitsuntide

 

Walt Whitman on Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_whitman 

 

Bolton Socialists maintain a strong interest in Walt Whitman and his work. http://www.boltonsocialistclub.org.uk/Walt_Whitman_Fellowship.html

 

Arthur Chappell

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