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November 25, 2009 > A Christmas Carol comes to life

A Christmas Carol comes to life

By Shavon Walker
Photos By Anthony Argyriou

The scent of sugared almonds is in the air. Orchestral music mingles with the sounds of vendors hawking their goods. Everywhere you look, people in street clothes are chatting with people in Victorian garments, and the words "Happy Christmas!" ring through the air. Are you trapped in some sort of alternate universe? No... you're at "The Great Christmas Dickens Fair," held at the San Francisco Cow Palace every weekend from November 27 through December 20.

Dickens Fair was created by the Patterson family 31 years ago, and is a collection of volunteers and merchants who want to recreate the magic of Christmas in Victorian London. Visitors will see many Dickens' characters as well as other Victorian era icons, during their stay. They can dance the day away in Fezziwig's Warehouse, see Fagin and his band of pickpockets roaming the streets or run into Queen Victoria herself.

They can have their children entertained by the plays at the Odyssey Theatre or enjoy adult entertainment at the Naughty French Postcards Revue. New additions to the fair include The Three Musketeers, and a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. Faire-goers can feast on roasted chestnuts, handmade chocolates, meat pies and other delicious concoctions sold by vendors.

Volunteers come from all over California but many of them can be found in the East Bay. Each has their own reasons for being part of Dickens Fair. Joshua Summit, a local teacher who lives in Hayward and plays a tea packer in Fezziwig's Warehouse notes that he moved from Sacramento to the Bay Area years ago to be part of Dickens Fair. "It's the joy of my life," he says. "The camaraderie is like nowhere else... we wouldn't be here if we didn't love it." Marci Sturgeon, a Castro Valley resident and a part of the Naughty French Postcards cast, agrees. "I get to be in an awesome show and be with my friends," she adds.

An interesting note is that many of the performers are teachers in local schools. This may account for their strong sense of community. All of the participants support each other throughout Dickens Fair; they have been known to make sure fellow volunteers take breaks, get enough rest, create Facebook lists for carpools, organize backstage food and make sure out of town fair folk have a place to stay over the weekend if needed. Local roles have turned them into leaders as well as actors and actresses.

The Great Christmas Dickens Fair is a one-of-a-kind event and is a wonderful place to bring friends and family. "It's a concentrated and distilled essence of Christmas," says Summit. "It's all the stuff in movies that you wish you could have. At Dickens, you can."

For more information on the Great Christmas Dickens Fair, go to www.dickensfair.com. Discounts are available for advance ticket purchase.

The Great Christmas Dickens Fair
Cow Palace, San Francisco
November 27 to December 20
11 a.m.-7 p.m.

$22 per adult, $19 per student/military/senior, $10 per child 5-11
Children under 5 are free
Parking: $10

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