Back before Christmas, Chrystie and I went to the Cow Palace to partake in the 32nd Annual Great Dickens Chrismas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party. Similar to a Renaissance Fair, the Dickens Fair takes you back to the Victorian times of Charles Dickens in ye olde London.
We arrived an hour or so after the fair had opened for the day, but found ourselves at the end of a large unorganized mass trying to figure out which line was cash, which line was credit, and which line was for will call. Nearly 20 minutes later we had our tickets in hand as we passed by a group of carolers at the entrance.
Several exhibition halls next to the Cow Palace were transformed into a small town consisting of food vendors, stores, stages, bars, entertainment, and many, many people. The reddish-orange lighting gave the place an old-timey feel, but made it difficult for me to get good pictures without a flash.
Having been to the fair before and missing out on the most popular show, Naughty French Postcards Tableaux Revue – an adult show that requires a ticket for entry, we first headed to get our tickets.
As with most festivals, there is simply too much going on at once to see everything. At any given time there were at least two shows going on, with bands, singers, chimneysweeps, newsboys, and other performers wandering the streets, various shops doing demonstrations, and parades for the Queen and Father Christmas traversing the streets from time to time.
There were various classic English foods to taste: meat pies, fish and chips, bangers and mash, tea and crumpets, roasted chestnuts, and even milk and cookies.
The food was nothing to write home about – overpriced and on par with what you’d find at an English pub, but it provided atmosphere.
The demonstrations at the Dancing Flames Candle shop are definitely worth watching as they intricately hand-carve the candles in custom designs for customers.
I was so impressed with their work that I bought a candle as a Christmas gift for my mom.
One of the clothing shops, Dark Garden Unique Corsetry, drew a small crowd from time to time as they would have girls on display posing in scantily clad clothing.
There was an adventurers club that had various items you might expect to see out of a Jules Verne book.
There was a very popular tea shoppe that offered tea and scones, but required reservations beforehand.
For children, the fair offered Tales from Mother Goose,
and a carousel offering rides on the safari animal of their choice.
We only made it to three shows, my favorite being The Coventry Carolers, a group of 30 carolers singing popular Christmas classics in their Victorian-era attire.
During their performance, the Queen’s parade came by and she was greeted with a rendition of “God Save the Queen”. At the end of their set, the carolers were unexpectedly joined by the Paddy West Nautical group and decided to sing some sea shanties with the drunken sailors.
We also watched Trey Cromwell: The West End Illusion Show, a short and simple magic show, worth a watch.
The last show of the night was the Naughty French Postcards Tableaux Revue, which I expected to be something silly with girls in lingerie, but boy was I mistaken. The show was a comedy about two old upper-class English folks deciding on whether or not to take a vacation to the countryside. Frequent breaks were taken in the conversation while actors and actresses posed, often in the nude, in the background depicting the debauchery that takes place in the countryside that the elderly couple intended to take their vacation. For such a family-friendly fair, I was really taken aback by the full-on nudity in the show. Sorry, no photos, cameras weren’t allowed 😉
Overall the Dickens Fair was good fun, and worth going once or twice to see everything and get in the Christmas spirit.
Some quick figures:
Tickets: $50 ($25 each), discounts up to $3 per ticket available
Gas to get there and back: ~$13
Time to get there and back: ~100 minutes
Hours of entertainment: ~6 hours
See more photos here.
See the website for the Dickens Fair here.