WITH Christmas only days away, we look back at Dorset's festive celebrations throughout the eighties and nineties.

A double-page spread in an edition of the Dorset Evening Echo, published on December 28, 1982, reported a season of "fun and fund-raising" across the county. It seems little has changed as far as the area's action for charity is concerned, with brave swimmers attempting the Christmas Day dip as far back as 37 years ago. In 1982, 25 individuals took the plunge as mild weather brought out hundreds of spectators, who watched from the harbourside.

The men's race was won by 15-year-old Nicolas Read, while 15-year-old Nicola Middle came first in the women's race. The pair received their trophies from the then Mayor of Weymouth and Portland, Mr Vincent McCarthy.

1982 also saw an event which is sadly no more: the Dorchester Pram Race. Organised by the Dorchester branch of the Muscular Dystrophy Group, a dozen teams in fancy dress completed the dash to the end of South Street and back. The unseasonal spring-like weather had attracted the best turnout yet for the fifth Boxing Day event, which saw Mike Sprules and Roger Lucas scoop first prize.

Mr Brian Caddy, chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Group, was reported saying: "The support has been terrific. The event has become well established now and with good weather we couldn't go wrong. We hope proceeds exceed last year's total of £150."

That same year, a significant sales boom was reported across the county, with all major stores claiming a substantial increase in takings. Some of the most popular products included three-piece suits - whose sales reached a "bumper level" - electronic games and glassware. Mr Bill Fear, of the former Woolworth's, said: "People are spending like they're expecting the end of the world. It's fantastic. I think they have had enough of gloom and despondency and are going to have a really good Christmas."

As for the Weymouth pantomime, whose presence on the town's Christmas calendar remains strong, 1982 saw a production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Distinguishing it from the shows of today, however, were six fully grown Siberian and Bengal tigers from Sally Chipperfield's circus, who performed tricks within a large wire cage under the watchful eye of their presenter, Tom Bale.

On the subject of animals, a 1989 edition of the Echo reported on the annual Cattistock Hunt at their traditional Boxing Day meet in Bridport. The then mayor, Cllr Daphne Stebbings, praised the highlights of the past decade, before more than 40 riders set off from Loders. Several foxes were killed as the chase took participants over King John's Castle and to North Poorton.

A slightly more sinister report in 1989 claimed that "Christmas novelties which could kill a child" had been found in Dorchester and Weymouth. Warnings focused on festive favourites such as tree decorations, ornaments, streamers and aerosols.

Mr Peter Cobb, a County Trading Standards officer, said: "We have found decorations all over the county containing spikes which could kill a child or toddler and we are urging parents to make sure their children don't play with objects which are not toys." Mr Cobb also referred to "one serious incident" in Weymouth where officers had seized 50 teddy bears with loose facial features.

A more upbeat December edition in 1993 saw Echo reporters head to Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester - or West Dorset Hospital as it was then known. Two women, Sue Farmer and Lesley Goldsack, both gave birth on Christmas Day to babies which happened to weigh exactly the same, both tipping the scales at 7lb, 13oz. In a celebration of both young and old, the paper also reported on the senior citizens' Christmas breakfast in Weymouth, where residents were visited by the Mayor and Mayoress of the borough, Alan and Mollie Martindale.

The Mayor of Dorchester, Mollie Rennie, also dropped in to the Acland Road Day Centre in Dorchester for an event called Company at Christmas, which was aimed at elder individuals who would otherwise spend the day alone.

In 1994, local businessmen joined national critics in saying that the 11-day Christmas holidays were having a negative effect on the country's economy. Mr Paul Cane, managing director of Tecan Components in Weymouth, was particularly vocal, commenting: "We are just starting to pick up the pieces after 11 days. Foreign companies do not understand why the holidays were so long. Americans only had two days off; this is simply an example of English gluttonous indulgence."

The comments came after city analysts reported that the number of bank holidays over the festive season had led to a loss of £5 billion.

Finally, for a pub landlord in Portland, the millennium ended with a bundle of joy. Liz Collinge, who owned Portland Roads in Castletown, gave birth to a baby boy just hours after pulling pints behind the bar. Her son, named Aiden James, was the first to be born on Christmas Day 1999.