SAN FRANCISCO—Cheerful laughter, savory smells, and dainty shops hints the holidays are approaching.
Every year, people can get a feel of what Victorian London was like right in San Francisco at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party.
People are taken back to the 1800’s to wander the winding streets of Victorian London in the interactive and immersive theater.
Kevin Patterson, executive director of Great Dickens Christmas Fair, says his parents started it. Now he’s inherited the annual tradition.
“It’s like going back in time to the London of Charles Dickens. And, all of his stories are brought to life around you by over 800 performers. And you can walk into the movie, if you will. It’s like a movie set,” said Patterson.
The set spans over three acres. And, it has one of the largest casts of actors in the world. It is in its 37th year in the Bay Area, and its 20th year at the Cow Palace Exhibition hall.
People can feel the social class change across the different docks and alleyways.
There are six theaters for entertainment, delicious places to eat, and intricate shops to hunt for gifts for the holidays.
The performers interact with visitors—replying in a way the character would have from the books.
“You can sit down and talk to Edgar Allen Poe, who’s here, telling some of his stories, or Lewis Carroll talking about Alice in Wonderland,” said Patterson. “Because all of these writers lived in the same time period as Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. So we bring the whole time period to life.”
It is the queen’s 200th birthday this year. People waved and curtsied as she paraded down the streets with her retinue and stopped to join several choirs in theaters.
“She has a beautiful new ballgown, and a new crown, a tiara, and we honor her in the streets of the fair as she goes by in her royal progress, by shouting out, God save the Queen,” said Patterson.
People can learn quite a bit about each character’s life. For example, Charles Dickens always wanted to be an actor.
“I auditioned at the Drury when I was young, or I was going to. And I fell ill, and was unable to audition. And shortly thereafter my first story published, it was very popular, and there you have it. The path changed, I became a writer,” said Dickens.
The first novel he wrote was The Pickwick Papers.
“We are observers of the human condition. And we are here in London to celebrate the holidays with our good friend, Mr. Wardle at Dingley Dell, his manor in Dingley Dell,” said Samuel Pickwick, the main protagonist in The Pickwick Papers.
Then there is Mad Sal, who runs a Music Hall. She has a quirky personality and claims to be more famous than the queen. She says she sees the ghost of one of King Henry’s wives who haunts him after she’s dead.
“A lovely lady she’s all in white, and she’s so sparkly and beautiful and then I see a man all in black and he’s carrying his chains. I don’t understand why nobody else sees them, but I do,” said Mad Sal, owner Mad Sal’s Dockside Music Hall.
People meander into parlors and shops to find unique treasures. This one sells jewelry made from real roses.
“So I take fresh roses, and I dry them. Once they are fully dried, so there’s no moisture left inside, I treat them with a special blend of resin,” said Sullivan Moore, manager of Fleur du Jour.
He says that resin makes the roses strong, almost like ceramic.
And of course, what would London be without tea?
“Our prickle holly bush berry is a flavor that we have. And we’re serving it this weekend here in our tea shop. And I really enjoy that one, it has a lot of strong fruit flavor to it,” said Edwina Cropper, retail manager at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe.
The fair welcomes children and adults of all ages to enjoy their travel back in time.
The fair will run for a total of five weekends until Dec. 22.