I have a confession to make: I’m a hardcore theater nerd, and not ashamed of it. One of my favorite performances was in middle school when I got to play Smike in Nickolas Nickleby. So when I got the chance to go to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, it was this theater girl’s dream come true.
But before we go forward let me explain the Dickens Fair to those who are not familiar with this holiday extravaganza.
This holiday fair has been a SF Bay Area tradition since 1970, and takes place for 5 weekends (starting the Friday after Thanksgiving). Every year the Cow Palace is transformed into over 120, 000 square feet of Charles Dickens’ London Town during the holidays. There are over a hundred costumed characters from Dickens’ novels roaming the lamp-lit streets, and you never know who you might run into (from Mr. Scrooge to Dickens himself).
Okay, now back to our time travels…
The moment we arrive at Cow Place, we were transported from foggy Daily City to a Victorian England during Christmastime.
There was so much attention to detail from the sawdust on the floor to the roaming characters who not only spoke in English accents, but peppered their sentences with delightful words like “flummox” and “whiz-bang.”
Visitors are encouraged to dress up, and there were a lot of people who went all out-hoops skirts, top hats, tailcoats-the whole nine yards. I was a little nervous about not being able to find proper attire, but was saved by a last minute thrift shop find. Mustafa on the other hand made good use of part of his three-piece suit that he wore for our wedding.
Upon our entrance, the smell of roasted cinnamon almonds greeted us, and we watched as dancers waltz and whirled their way around Fezziwig’s Dance Party. I felt like I was in the middle of A Christmas Carol.
The Grand Concourse quickly came into view, and it was as if we were dropped in the middle of London with all the bustling storefronts. I made a beeline for the bookshop and geeked over a San Francisco newspaper from the late 19th century.
Three hours passed like no time at all, as we wondered around the themed sections like Nickleby Road, Cratchit’s Yard and Fagin’s Alley. We watched a chorus sing Christmas carols with the Queen herself out on the London Docks. We popped into numerous shops selling everything from handmade Christmas ornaments to leather bound books.
Since we had gotten there around noon, we headed straight for Fish Street (where a majority of the food is) and debated whether we should get fish or chip or gyros (the later won). For libations there were plenty of bars around the premises, with names like The Mermaid and The Bohemian Pub that served everything from hot-spiced mead to glasses of absinthe.
Although wondering around provided plenty of entertainment, there were also musical and theatrical performances in the several stage venues throughout the day. Definitely never a dull moment around these parts.
Here are some other highlights you should not miss:
- Send a telegraph at the Central London Telegraph Co., which is delivered by a sure-footed messenger to anyone at the fair
- Peer into the Dickens Family Parlour, and watch the family mingle and play card games
- Learn to polka or waltz at Fezziwig’s Dance Party, where the dance floor welcomes both seasoned and new dancers
- Drop by the Adventures Club, where you can listen to 19th century explorers, scientist and authors discuss innovations in their field
- Meet Father Christmas at 1p.m. sharp for a unique photo opp
- Watch the Her Majesty’s Royal Light Opera Gala show in Victoria & Albert’s Bijou Music Hall
- Check out the silhouette portraits, where real women pose as mannequins in window shops
- Admire handcrafted wands at Whirlwood Wands that would make Harry Potter envious
- Dare to have your fortune read at Mama Mambo’s Tarot readings
And because no fair is complete without it: the food highlights…
- The Tippling Toad for hearty fair like turkey, chicken and meat platters (reservations recommended)
- Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe-traditional English tea with bite-sized sandwiches and cakes (reservations recommended)
- Mr. Barker’s Bangers for classic English sausages and French onion soup
- Heritage Meat Pies-a fair favorite with pies made with golden flaky crusts and filled with gravy and meat
- Bramosia chocolate stand for addictive artisanal chocolate
- roasted chestnuts at The Chestnut Cart (London Docks)
- roasted cinnamon almonds (carts at Jingle’s Gate and Ale House Alley)
If you go…
Make sure to bring plenty of cash.
Parking is $12.
Entrance fee is $30 for adults, $14 for children (5-12 years old). Twilight tickets after 3 p.m. are $18 for adults and $10 for children.
Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Would you ever go to a themed-Christmas fair? Have you been to one?
*I was given media passes to the fair, but all options as always are my own.*