Wigan artist's fancy way to celebrate Boxing Day tradition

A Wigan artist is preparing a spectacular procession through the town centre based on the borough's Boxing Day fancy dress tradition.

Thursday, 12th April 2018, 10:56 am
Updated Thursday, 12th April 2018, 11:06 am
Anna leads the dress rehearsal

Anna FC Smith, from Swinley, is organising the unusual-looking figure’s journey from Believe Square to Hallgate via Market Place and Standishgate this weekend.

The sculpture represents all the costumes worn by Wiganers and celebrates the unusual folk custom.

The event, which is followed on Saturday evening, appropriately enough, by a fancy dress party, concludes months of research by Anna on why Wigan has its fancy dress Boxing Day and where the unique custom actually comes from.

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Choreographer Ruth Welch shows how it's done

Anna, who is doing the project through the Imago residency for local artistic talent, says the only fitting way to display such a figure was in the most public way possible.

Excitement is also building at the prospect of unveiling the artwork for Wiganers following the success of a dress rehearsal in Standish.

She said: “It didn’t seem right to have a simple exhibition for this project where people just stand still and look at the sculpture,

“I wanted to enjoy and express the vibrancy of Boxing Day, underlining how important a tradition it is to our town’s identity while not taking the fun out of it.

Choreographer Ruth Welch shows how it's done

“I’m really excited about Saturday. The dress rehearsal really brought it all to life with the way it moved. People were coming out to have a look at it.

“Hopefully it will be something really different in people’s day. Boxing Day happens on the streets, in pubs and in clubs, it’s among the community and the procession mimics that.”

The sculpture will make its way around the square outside the life centre and then along the pedestrianised routes in the town centre in a procession featuring dancers led by choreographer Ruth Welch.

As well as representing the thousands of costumes, ranging from giant bananas to Mounties to traffic cones, which have been donned over the years Anna has also tied in Boxing Day fancy dress to older types of folk rituals and traditional outdoor celebrations, with nods to things like the church walking days and mummers’ plays.

Her research has brought a host of fascinating facts to life, with Frank Morgan from Wigan RU Club suggesting that the tradition partly comes from festive fancy dress parties they used to hold.

However, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s lots of Wiganers got into costume, with fancy dress hospice fund-raisers at work in Poolstock and enthusiasts of the fun pubs going out post-shows in their full attire.

Anna said her research is ongoing and she is still looking for more anecdotes and pictures, particularly from the tradition’s early days.

However, she is still searching for the answer to one of the biggest questions of all: why does Wigan have this unique custom?

She said: “I couldn’t really say why but Wiganers like to let their hair down and they are maybe a bit more rebellious. Everyone’s in a bit of a festive and silly mood when they’re mostly off work for a few days.

“The other thing I like about Boxing Day is that it’s completely unthemed, people can be really creative in terms of what they are going to do. Some people spend almost all year thinking of a costume and others have no time and throw really odd things together last minute.”

Anna’s project comes to an end at The Old Courts with a fancy dress party featuring live music from Atomic Mons, a DJ and (of course) a competition for the best fancy dress.

She is still working out what to do with the massive sculpture in the future but says she would like to see it displayed both at prominent civic and culture venues and at haunts popular with Boxing Day revellers.

The town centre procession is at 1.30pm on Saturday with the free fancy dress party at 8pm.

Send Boxing Day memories and photos to Anna at [email protected]