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The Cow Palace’s cavernous expanse in Daly City will be bereft of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair this year, but that doesn’t mean the organizers of this treasured Bay Area tradition with a 50-year history have thrown in the towel altogether.
In its stead, there will be a five-week-plus online extravaganza, with new and intriguing content uploaded each locale-themed weekend, highlighted by an excerpt from “A Christmas Carol” read by an appropriately bewigged and costumed “Dickens” himself and culminating in a Christmas Eve reading of the entire classic tale and a raising up of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” in the Fezziwigs’ virtual family parlour. And better still — it all comes free to us as a holiday gift at www.dickensfair.com.
The Dickens Fair at Home launches this Saturday and Sunday from “The Grand Concourse” with a dozen offerings, many familiar to past patrons of the fair, which first came to the Cow Palace in 1970. In addition to Mr. Charles (actor Robert Young, who has been in the Dickens persona for many years), there will be a “Carol of the Bells” sung by the Coventry Carolers, with a sheet-music download so we can belt it out along with them; an annual holiday address to her subjects from Her Majesty Queen Victoria; recipes for brandied eggnog and cinnamon almonds and — have your paper and scissors at hand— a demonstration from artist Jordan Monsell on how to cut a Victorian silhouette portrait.
The Nov. 28-29 second weekend, coming to us from “Petticoat Lane,” will feature the sweet strains of hammered-dulcimer music resounding from the lane, demonstrations of Victorian cooking and candle dipping and carving and some insights into the art of wheat weaving from Morgyn Owens-Celli, a Welsh wheat weaver and longtime artist for the fair. There will also be a history of Tavistock House, the Dickens London family home from 1851-1860 and the site of his creation of “A Tale of Two Cities,” among other books.
Punch & Judy, the famously embattled British puppets, highlight the Dec. 5-6 third weekend on the “Tinsley Green” with their hilarious show. Other offerings include a visit to “Nana’s Nursery” with its storehouse of Victorian toys; a recipe for snickerdoodles, the classic Christmas cookies (yum!) and a shoutout to St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), honoring the Dutch SinterKlaas, who predates both the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus.
“Mad Sal’s Dockside Alehouse” is the merry — and somewhat salty — scene of the Dec. 12-13 festivities, with the Can-Can Bijou girls kicking their hooped skirts high into the air. Edgar Allan Poe is also featured, reading from his tales of the macabre; sea shanties from the Seadogs of Paddy West will get our toes tapping; and we’ll also learn how to roast our own chestnuts at home.
From “Cratchit’s Yard,” we head into the Dec. 19-20 final weekend, where we’ll learn how to make Christmas crackers, the traditional holiday table decorations, and view a gallery of beautifully elaborate Victorian Christmas cards. We’ll also get recipes for hard sauce for our rum cakes and scones from St. Cuthbert’s Tea House. And be sure to check out the spooky-cool, possibly goosebump-raising visit to the Victorian Christmas Parlour at Night, an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) video created by Ambience of Yesteryear (worth a Google check all on its own).
Christmas Eve at “Fezziwig’s Warehouse” (Dec. 24, of course), in addition to the reading of “A Christmas Carol” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” sing-along, will present Father Christmas reading from kids’ letters and reciting “The Night Before Christmas.” And a revisit to Nana’s Nursery will uncover a holiday surprise.
All the uploaded content will remain online for the duration of the Dickens Fair, and there will be an ongoing opportunity to shop for holiday crafts, clothing, foods and gifts from more than 50 artisans who normally sell their wares in person at the fair. All you need to do is visit www.dickensfair.com to participate in the fun.
* New Dickens Fair at Home online content will be released every Saturday starting this weekend through Dec. 20. More Dickens Fair content will be released Dec. 24. Learn more here: https://dickensfair.com/dickens-fair-at-home