Each year, people gather from surrounding counties to launch the official start of the Christmas holiday season in Fayetteville. In its 19th year, the annual “A Dickens Holiday” transports revelers to Victorian England in hopes of catching a glimpse of Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and other beloved characters from Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol.” Unlike the classic tale, there are no “Bah! Humbug’s!” uttered during this event, but rather “ooohs and aaahs!” by all the festivalgoers. Hosted by the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County in Historic Downtown Fayetteville, “A Dickens Holiday” kicks off at 1 p.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends after dark, around 9 p.m.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving is traditionally Small Business Saturday, where people are encouraged to shop at small, brick-and-mortar local businesses for holiday shopping. In Fayetteville, people patronize small businesses a day early. Lampposts and storefronts are decorated with holiday greenery and ribbons. Merchants along Hay Street sell their wares to wandering festivalgoers, who leisurely stroll while sipping hot cider or hot chocolate.
“‘A Dickens Holiday’ truly is the ultimate ‘Shop Local’ experience as merchants pull out all the stops,” said Janet Gibson, marketing and communications director for the Arts Council. “But it’s also a time to enjoy holiday music, strolling carolers, Annie’s Alehouse, horse-drawn carriage rides and to get your photo taken with Father Christmas – and, of course, enjoy gingerbread cookies and hot apple cider.” She added that the day ends with “an amazing candlelight ceremony for as far as the eye can see down Hay Street!”
“A Dickens Holiday” celebrates the best of Victorian times and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Attendees filled with joy merrily wish each other good cheer while the echoes of Christmas carols drift through the air.
The Arts Council pop-up pub “Annie’s Alehouse” is found in the Arts Council building at 301 Hay St. This gathering place is perfect for revelers to warm their hands and tummies while pub tunes play in the gallery.
Carriage drivers dressed in Victorian garb take riders through the streets of downtown in an elegant carriage. There are two choices for carriage rides. Ye Dickens Wagon begins at noon and starts from 222 Hay St. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. If you’re looking for a fancier carriage ride, the Queen Victoria Carriage is hosted at the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum at 325 Franklin St. Tickets for the Queen Victoria Carriage cost $15 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations in advance are recommended either in person at 222 Hay St. or by calling 910-223-1089. It’s a perfect way to snuggle up with your sweetheart!
Father Christmas makes a special appearance to the delight of children of all ages, who eagerly run to meet the jolly, white-bearded man sitting in his colorfully adorned sleigh. Parents can snap photos and take videos of their kids with Father Christmas at the Arts Council building from 1-8:30 p.m.
More recently, the Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity began hosting the Gingerbread House Community of Hope during the festivities. The spicy scent and fun decor of gingerbread houses are a holiday tradition for many, and residents in the community are invited to construct their most creative gingerbread houses for display at SkyView on Hay, 121 Hay St.
Bob Pinson, Arts Council operations director and longtime Dickens event planner, said the Gingerbread Community of Hope is a fun way for Habitat for Humanity to raise awareness of its mission to ensure affordable, quality housing for lower-income people.
“With the recent hurricanes and the destruction they brought, (this event) seeks to show how grateful we are for what we have but remember that there is a great need for the community to support rebuilding efforts for so many,” he said.
There is no fee to enter a creation for display, but an entrance form is needed. Entry forms and a base for the house can be picked up at Fayetteville Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 3833 Bragg Blvd. Voting for the best gingerbread house will take place between 1 and 5:30 p.m. The winner will receive $250.
The historic Fayetteville Market House is also open to the public during “A Dickens Holiday,” where visitors can view the “This Victorian Life” exhibit. Local history is on display, including an interactive area where visitors can learn about the area, view the decorated Christmas tree and identify obsolete household items from Victorian times. It also offers the best bird’s eye view of bustling Hay Street below.
Many other fun activities abound throughout the day, including Marvelous Mauve, the roving photographer – dressed in mauve, of course. Marvelous Mauve roams the streets looking for revelers dressed in Victorian attire so she can snap photos for the Virtual Costume Contest. Winners receive gift cards to local stores or eateries. Marvelous Mauve will also be at the Rainbow Room from 2-3 p.m. and 4-5 p.m. to take photos.
New this year is the Canterbury Victorian Dance Group. The group will demonstrate various English country dances such as the Rufty Tufty, Hearts Ease and the Queen’s Waltz. There will be opportunities for audience members to participate during the Circle Waltz and the Halfe Hannikin. Dances will be performed in the front hall of The Capitol Encore Academy, 126 Hay St. throughout the day.
The highlight of “A Dickens Holiday” is the anticipation of the candlelight procession. As the sun sets, crowds gather in front of the Arts Council and all along Hay Street to the Market House. With candles in hand, festivalgoers eagerly await the arrival of Queen Victoria. One by one, each person shares their candle flame with another until all of Hay Street is aglow with candlelight.
Finally, Queen Victoria arrives. Once she’s tucked in her carriage, the procession begins. The Queen waves to onlookers as her carriage advances from the Arts Council to the Market House along Hay Street while the street is lit by thousands of candles. The excitement grows as the crowd strains to catch a glimpse of the queen. Bagpipers playing Christmas songs declare the Queen’s arrival by marching in front of her. Spectators hum along to the tunes.
After much fanfare and cheers from the crowd, the evening culminates in a chorus of oohs and aahs as colorful fireworks burst above the Market House and the holiday lights are lit along Hay Street for the season. “A Dickens Holiday” showcases the best of Fayetteville and its community members on one enchanted day.
According to Gibson, planning for the next event begins as soon as this one ends. Preparing for attendance numbers that hover between 15,000 and 20,000 each year takes a lot of forward-thinking.
The charming affair is held Nov. 23 from 1-9 p.m. Find out more at www.theartscouncil.com/things-to-do/a-dickens-holiday. If you want to turn your experience up a notch, consider dressing Victorian-style! The Arts Council has a handy How to Dress Dickens Style guideline available here at www.theartscouncil.com/sites/default/files/HowToDressR_links-compressed.pdf.