A look ahead to Christmas in a new-look Halifax
PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:07 24 November 2017
Revamped Halifax has Christmas all wrapped up as Martin Pilkington discovers
As you’d expect of a town where two key attractions have very recently completed major improvement projects, Halifax is determined to make the most of Christmas 2017.
‘Christmas is really exciting this year, with developments like the newly transformed Piece Hall and Square Chapel Arts Centre,’ says Calderdale Councillor Susan Press, ‘Halifax, and the whole of Calderdale, is a fantastic place to visit all year round, but it’s extra special at Christmas.’ Both those revamped venues present packed programmes through December, but there’s plenty on offer elsewhere too.
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper Christmas without a panto (oh yes it would...), an annual ritual for the performers as well as the audiences. Actor Dean Hurst, Halifax born, bred and schooled before he made his name in West End musicals, is appearing this year – as Wishee Washee – in Aladdin, his ninth Victoria Theatre panto.
‘My Christmas for the following year usually starts in January when the panto for December is arranged,’ he says. ‘We have the script as a framework, but we throw in ideas as a cast too, so all through the year I’m thinking about jokes and things that could possibly be slotted in – but sadly I only get paid for the six weeks of rehearsals and performances!’
Dean’s a newcomer to the Halifax Yuletide scene, however, compared with early music group York Waits. ‘We’re playing The Square Chapel again this year as we have every year since 1992,’ says the band’s harp, shawn, kirtle and hurdy-gurdy player Tim Bayley.
‘We try to vary what we do every year with Christmas music going back as far as the 13th century, and there’s a lot of wonderful 15th century Christmas music to choose from, and quite a few Yorkshire carols.’
And Michaela O’Sullivan, the Square Chapel‘s Head of Audiences adds: ‘York Waits have become a Square Chapel institution at Christmas but we have a huge variety of shows and events this year now our new building is fully opened, including films like Elf, and the original Miracle on 34th Street in the new cinema space.
‘Our own community choir are doing their sing-along Holly Jolly Christmas, and the flagship Christmas show is Beauty and the Beast that we commissioned from young theatre company Beacon Actors.’
Next door to The Square Chapel Arts Centre, Piece Hall aims to mark its first Christmas after a £6 million refurbishment with some seasonal style. From December 14 until January, a 20m diameter ‘Spiegeltent,’ complete with mirrored pillars and booths and a central dance-floor, will host four functions daily including story-telling for younger children, shows for older ones, silent discos, comedy nights and cabaret. Nearby will be the Hygge Tipi where you’ll be able to indulge in Scandinavian cosiness and relaxation while enjoying hot chocolate and mulled wine.
Piece Hall Chief Executive Nicola Chance-Thompson says: ‘We also have a Christmas market from December 3rd to 10th where we focus on Yorkshire artists and makers and products, which fits with the ethos in the building. We celebrate local firms and artists, not the usual chains.’
December is a vital time for retailers, and the team at Halifax BID (Business Improvement District) has launched a Golden Ticket promotion to encourage extra visitors to the town this year. Once completed, the tickets – which are available without purchase at a variety of shops – have to be posted in one of six golden post boxes in the town centre.
‘There are three prizes of £500 to be spent in Halifax centre,’ says BID Project Manager Chloe McNeill. ‘The first will be drawn on November 25th, the day of the Christmas Lights switch-on that we’re organising with Pulse Radio, and the others will be drawn on the following two Saturdays.’
If all those events – and many more besides – leave you feeling all Christmassed-out, another Halifax institution, Dean Clough, has a range of exhibitions to offer some artistic respite, though whether Jingle Bells, mulled ale and festive menus can be avoided at the many shops, bars and restaurants in the repurposed (and at half a mile long, vast) carpet mill is perhaps moot.
One of the exhibitions on during December at the Dean Clough complex has particular local resonance given the Boxing Day deluge of 2015; Joanna Brown’s ARKive photographically and digitally examines inundations around the world since the early 20th century. The people of Halifax and the rest of the county will be hoping Christmas 2017 is remembered for fun not floods.