Step back in time and enjoy the holidays the old-fashioned way with Dickens Christmas, an annual tradition in the Finger Lakes village of Skaneateles.
The village comes alive with holiday spirit, as Charles Dickens and his cast of 70 characters interact with residents and visitors in the streets, stores and restaurants. The setting is 1842, and Charles Dickens is gathering research for his soon-to-be-written classic, A Christmas Carol. On village streets, he encounters Scrooge, Tiny Tim, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, the Honorary DeWitt Clinton (retired governor of New York who championed the Erie Canal), President William Henry Harrison and a bevy of other characters, ranging from school girls to pickpockets.
The Victorian-era characters roam the village, sing carols and act out scenes from the novel. Magic, music and merriment prevail – guests ride in horse-drawn carriages, children meet with Mother Goose at the library and all enjoy the village shops and wonderful food, including holiday favorites like roasted chestnuts and eggnog. The event attracts over 20,000 visitors annually – and it’s come a long way in 21 years.
“The production wasn’t always the polished version it is today – in the beginning, we really struggled,” recalls Ted Davenport, the first Charles Dickens. “That first year, we thought we had an arrangement with an acting group in Syracuse, but no one showed up. So I grabbed some friends, put them in costume, and about 10 of us did the show ourselves.” He enjoyed playing Dickens in those early days. “Street theater is up-close and personal, and it provides a wonderful experience for the actors, as well as for visitors.”
The entire village of Skaneateles joins together to create this classic winter wonderland. “Our village becomes a magical place during the holiday season,” says Tara Lynn, director of the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “We invite Dickens fans from near and far to step back in time and join us for a slower-paced, more enjoyable atmosphere, where shopping can still be fun.”
The cast of 70, which includes young apprentice talent, is joined by a variety of guest musicians and caroling groups. The show comes together in just six rehearsals.
“We pack a lot in and streamline the process of building a character,” says Jim Greene, production director. He has played Charles Dickens for more than a decade. “Every actor learns music and uses improvisational techniques to build his character and become part of the ensemble.”
The celebration begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs every Saturday and Sunday through December 24. For more information on Dickens Christmas, go to skaneateles.com, call 315-685-0552, or follow Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles on Facebook.
Dickens Kick-Off is at noon on the porch of the Sherwood Inn at 26 W. Genesee Street.
Father Christmas greets children from noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m. on the porch of the Masonic Temple at 13 E. Genesee Street.
The Revels Live is a Christmas carol sing-along held at 2 p.m. at the gazebo in the village’s Clift Park. Twelve groups form, each representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. The groups vie for attention, and at the end Queen Victoria awards a silver teasel to the most spirited performer. Winners have been known to wear their coveted silver teasels throughout the season.
Scenes from “A Christmas Carol” feature guests from the audience, and are performed at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on the steps of the Masonic Temple.
Horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides around the village depart all day from the Sherwood Inn. Wagon rides are free, carriage rides are $20 per family.
The Wonderful Wizard of the North performs comedy magic shows at 1 and 3 p.m. on December 6, 7, 20 and 21. Performances will take place at the Skaneateles Library, 49 E. Genesee Street.
Mother Goose reads holiday stories to children at the Skaneateles Library, and Father Christmas hands out treats from the porch of the Masonic Temple.
Complimentary hot cocoa, cider and holiday cookies are available from noon to 4 p.m. at Mirbeau Inn & Spa, 851 W. Genesee Street.
Complimentary professional photographs are taken from noon to 4 p.m. in front of the Mirbeau Christmas Tree.
Dickens Ale from Empire Brewery is on tap at the Sherwood Inn, and available in a special decorated pint glass. Also, seasonal drink and dessert specials and gift card promotions are featured at the Sherwood Inn throughout the season.
Friday, November 28
“World’s Smallest” Christmas Parade!
The parade starts at noon beginning on Fennell Street, and ends at the Sherwood House, next door to the Sherwood Inn.
Grand entrance of Charles Dickens and his entourage
Meet Queen Victoria, Governor Dewitt Clinton, Father Christmas, and of course that mean, old Scrooge! Grand opening is at 12:10 p.m. on the steps of the Sherwood House.
Saturday, November 29
Live performance by the Finger Lakes Wind Quintet
Performances are at 1 and 2:50 p.m. at the Skaneateles Library.
Friday, December 5
Celebrate the dedication of the crèche and tree lighting with carols.
Thursday, December 11
“A Dinner with Dickens and Friends”
Charles Dickens and company will perform a live rendition of A Christmas Carol at 6 p.m. at Mirbeau Inn & Spa. Dinner is for all ages with music, mirth and many surprises!
The Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce Dickens Christmas is produced by Scarlett Rat Entertainment and presented by Mirbeau Inn & Spa and the Skaneateles-area business community.
by Tara Lynn