By Sara G. Stephens
This year, Galveston’s annual festival celebrates Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday with its usual Victorian grace and a few extra surprises.
As you chill in the “wintery weather” of December, a merry collection of curious characters warm the walkways of Galveston’s historic Strand, strolling about in Victorian costume, immersed in the society of this bygone era, and seemingly quite happy to leave the modern world behind, if only for a weekend. The year is 2012, but visitors to Dickens on the Strand, an annual event presented by the Galveston Historical Foundation, are traveling back to mid 19th century, to take in the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of Victorian London.
Many of these gentlefolk are dressed as characters from the great works of Charles Dickens, the brilliant English writer and social critic regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period and the creator of some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters. Among his most popular works are “Oliver Twist,” “Great Expectations,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities”—each a genius creation of prose enriched by meticulously detailed setting and characters who serve to animate the story in virtually palpable manner. To see these story elements come alive in a completely immersive and interactive event is, for Dickens fans, a fulfillment of great expectations, and for the rest, the realization of dreams they never knew they had.
This year, Dickens On the Strand promises to serve a particularly meaningful experience, as GHF celebrates the author’s bicentenary (he was born in 1812). Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, the great, great, great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, adds to the authenticity of the celebration with several special appearances. On the streets, live entertainment, food and vendors fill the area with delights that sweep every sense. The family festival will include parades, non-stop entertainment on the festival’s stages, plus strolling carolers and roving street musicians, bagpipers and entertainers. Additionally, costumed vendors peddle their wares from street stalls and rolling carts laden with tasty culinary delights and Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry, holiday decorations and gift items.
The fun starts Friday, November 30, continuing through Sunday, December 2. Besides the joys of wandering about this Victorian-London landscape, visitors can enjoy several special events, including Tea With Queen Victoria, handbell concerts, architectural walking tours, Dickens country breakfast buffets, twilight tours, and dinners with Dickens. Kids will delight in the festival’s petting zoo, parade and snow.
Looking for a bonding moment with co-workers, friends, or family? Enter the Victorian Bed Races down Mechanic Street! Or just enjoy the fantastic show, cheering on the participants. Prizes are awarded to the team with the fastest time, best decorated bed and People’s Choice Award (for $1, patrons to the festival may cast their vote for their favorite bed. Half of the proceeds will benefit the Galveston Historical Foundation and the other half will be donated to the charity chosen by the first place winners).
Or, if you’re looking for the bond that lasts a lifetime, why not get married or renew your vows at the festival’s Royal Victorian Wedding Ceremony at 12 noon, Saturday, December 1 at the Westminster Abbey Stage? The GHF’s website contains a wedding application link and more details on the historic ceremony.
Costumes are not mandatory to attend the festival, but visitors who do dress for the occasion receive discounted admission. The Galveston Historical Foundation website (www.galvestonhistory.org/) offers great tips for costumes for men, women, children, and infants. Tickets for Dickens On the Strand can also be purchased online and printed for entry to the festival and its special events.