The Dickens Fair
Christmas, 1851. London.
Emerging from the fog, a woman in a green satin gown ducks into the doorway of a shop. Pausing among the holly-bedecked shelves, she pulls out her iPhone. “Siri, where is Pickwick Place?” Welcome to the Dickens Fair.
For a few weekends every year, ending on December 18, the Cow Palace Warehouse & Exhibition Hall in Daly City (just south of San Francisco) is transformed into the streets of Dickensian London. It offers live music, fish n’ chips, period dances, hundreds of little shops and restaurants, and always an enthusiastic crowd of fairgoers, resplendent in DIY Victorian dress. Regulars include Professor Flockmocker, a crazy inventor with a workshop displaying questionable but hilarious inventions, Mr. Fezziwig and his Christmas ball, several young chimney sweeps, and Fagin with his gang of street urchins, pick-pockets, and assorted unsavory characters.
Walking through the London Docks – past loudly singing sailors, the dark hulls of ships looming out of the fog, and detectives Holmes and Watson hiding discreetly behind a barrel – one finds the grand concourse, filled with the noise and bustle of street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and the strains of a fiddle as the band at Fezziwig’s party begins a waltz. Ebenezer Scrooge walks the streets in his nightshirt, holding onto the robes of a strange, glowing figure, and a bobbie’s whistle pierces the air to signify the passage of the queen herself and her entourage!
Thankfully, one can always find respite from all this to-do in the solace of a cup of tea and scone at Cuthbert’s Tea Shop around the corner, accompanied by the conversation of notable artists, explorers, and intellectuals (including Dickens himself) at the Adventurers’ Club. Or, in pursuit of real adventure, one can visit the Corinthian Rose Fencing Academy to learn the art of gentlemen’s dueling. Finally, the day ends at Fezziwig’s for a rousing sing-along of the Hallelujah Chorus. Visitors exit back into the night, entering their modern buses and automobiles, filled for the moment with the warmth of a glimpse of Christmases past.