‘A Dickens Holiday’ holds a special place in the hearts of many area residents. Locals look forward to coming together and kickstarting the holiday season with this festive event in downtown Fayetteville. Like so many other traditions in 2020, this year’s event will be a little different due to the pandemic, but participants will still be able to enjoy the beloved event inspired by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“This is the 21st year we are doing this festival, usually it happens the day after Thanksgiving,” said Antonio Renteria, director of operations for the Arts Council of Fayetteville.
“It started off as a way to bring traffic from the mall area to downtown and focus on those small businesses. It grew from there,” he said.
Instead of a one-day event, this year’s celebration is titled ‘In the Spirit of Dickens,'” and also offers events on the two weekends before Thanksgiving with musicians and other performers.
“We’ll have some carolers out there and cut outs to bring the holiday season even sooner,” Renteria said.
The holiday may look different this year, but the Arts Council is using the opportunity to return the focus to supporting downtown merchants, he said.
Merchants will be doing different specials leading up to the main festival on Nov. 27. The festival won’t have the usual fireworks or the candlelight procession. Also absent this year will be the arts and crafts vendors set up in the downtown area.
“These are some things that we are not doing to mediate some of the larger crowds,” Renteria said. “We are encouraging merchants to bring out holiday gear and come out of their shops and decorate,” he said. “We’ll have the Fayetteville Orchestra, and different actors, like Scrooge, Ghost of Christmas Past, walking up and down the streets.”
This year’s festival will be a combination of efforts with the Arts Council and Cool Springs Downtown District to provide a unique shopping experience.
What we do plan to do is still support our mission of combining the arts in support of our local business and restaurants, that will also allow us to help support our local artists that have been out of work since March, said Robert Pinson, interim president/CEO of the Arts Council.
“The idea is that you may not know exactly what is happening downtown, but you know that there is something fun to see and do and shop, or a great restaurant for lunch or dinner,” Pinson said.
Some of the other attractions downtown for the festival will include Coventry Carolers, local adult and youth musicians from Fayetteville Symphony, brass quartets and Dickens character actors from the Cape Fear Regional Theatre.
“One of my favorite things that we are doing, and I am glad we are getting a chance to do it again this year, is the ‘Gingerbread Community of Hope’ … a gingerbread house competition,” Renteria said. The competition is open to the public, there’s no cost to enter, and you can go online to sign up, he said.
The Encore Academy will display entries in their windows beginning Nov. 23, Pinson said.
“The houses will be up that Monday before and stay up the whole week, so people can come downtown, look at them, scan the QR code and vote on the ones they like,” Renteria said. “It’s a public competition so the community really gets to come out and decide which is the best one.”
The winner of the competition will receive a $250 prize and will be announced the weekend of the event.
The Fayetteville Area Transportation Museum will be doing story time for children and there will be horse drawn carriage rides, said Metoya Scott, public relations manager for the Arts Council.
Like every other year, attendees and visitors are encouraged to dress up in Dickens-themed or Victorian clothing, and a guide to the dress code is available on the Arts Council’s website, Renteria said.
The Arts Council will stream certain events live on the festival’s event page on Facebook for those who don’t feel comfortable coming downtown due to the pandemic.
“For me the biggest thing you’re coming for … is getting to see the carolers and Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past, walking around and really just get you into that holiday spirit,” Renteria said.
The event will end the evening of Nov. 27 with the lighting of the community Christmas tree in front of the Arts Council.
“If you're looking for a way to forget about 2020 a little bit, then get outside and enjoy the holiday season for the pure sake of it just being the holidays," Renteria said. “This is definitely the time to come out and do it and leave with a smile on your face.”
For more information about ‘In the Spirit of Dickens,' visit https://www.theartscouncil.com/feature/dickens-holiday