If anything, Fayetteville is a city that respects tradition; and the holiday season is packed with unique local traditions that make November and December a blur of fun-filled activities. One of the biggest traditions that makes Thanksgiving Day weekend extra special is A Dickens Holiday. Every year, more than 10,000 people come to downtown Fayetteville to experience the charm that comes with the Victorian era Christmas celebration. The event takes place the day after Thanksgiving and is hosted by the Arts Council Fayetteville/Cumberland County and the Downtown Alliance.
“People look forward to A Dickens Holiday and all that it offers each year,” said Marketing Director at Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County Mary Kinney. “That is why we make sure that Father Christmas is available for photographs each year and why the Downtown Alliance offers carriage rides each year. There are so many elements that the community looks forward to and we don’t want to stray too far from what people have come to love about this tradition.”
Come as you are, or dig through the closet and come in character. So many people enjoy the event that many choose to come in costume. “It’s easy to find things in our closets to put together a Victorian era look that can be a lot of fun,” said Kinney.
Find out more about fun, easy ways to dress for the occasion at www.theartscouncil.com/A Dickens Holiday/How to Dress_2011_LS.pdf
“We want people to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves no matter what they are wearing,” said Kinney.
The shops, restaurants and galleries are open for business and there will be vendors as well. Items like top hats, scarves, Christmas wreaths and decorations are typically available for sale. Actors portraying characters from A Christmas Carol will roam the streets acting out portions of this traditional Christmas tale.
“This event is definitely for the community, but in many ways it is the community,” said Kinney. “Even the actors who portray characters from A Christmas Carol on the street are members of the community. In fact, the actor who plays Scrooge has been doing this for several years.”
A Dickens Holiday starts at 1 p.m. The streets are filled with actors dressed in Victorian era garb. There are carolers, characters from A Christmas Carol, vendors, carriage rides and more. Sip hot cider and stroll the streets of downtown Fayetteville enjoying the shops, restaurants and galleries.
Don’t miss the gingerbread contest at SkyView on Hay, which is located at 121 Hay St. “We are excited to host local high school culinary students again this year,” said Kinney. “Although gingerbread is a traditional medium, the theme for this competition is structures from the original colonies, which should be interesting.”
The competition starts at 1 p.m. and the public is invited to stop by and vote for their favorite gingerbread structure.
Carson Phipps is the Coordinator in the Career and Technical Education Department at the Cumberland County Schools system and he gets to help the students plan and execute this sweet operation.
“We’ve got seven schools competing in the Gingerbread Competition. This year, one team is going to do a house that is different than the rest,” said Phipps. “They are actually doing an H&H designed home. We have never done this before, but H&H is a sponsor so one of their homes will be featured in the contest.”
The rest of the contestants will be making houses that look like the capitol buildings of the original 13 American colonies. “We thought this would work because the colonies were founded around the time that Charles Dickens was alive,” said Phipps. “By doing the colonial buildings we could tie in to the time period but make the competition uniquely American. We had about 3,000 people come through last year and they all seemed to enjoy it.”
The official judging takes place at 7 p.m., but the People’s Choice Award will not be announced until 8:30 p.m. The winners get $500 for their school.
The second floor of the Market House will feature a display sponsored by the Fayetteville Area Transportation & Local History Museum called This Victorian Life. The exhibit takes a look at how Victorians celebrated Christmas and includes items like coins, ceramic plates and other commemorative pieces from Queen Victoria’s reign.
The Arts Council exhibit, Winter: An Invitational, features the works of professional photographers and shares their unique perspectives on winter. “This show is not just about classic winter photographs,” said Kinney. “It includes pictures that offer fresh and different interpretations of what winter means to the different artists — like a man bundled up for the cold, but he is sitting in a beach chair looking at the ocean.”
While the festivities are sure to put even the staunchest of scrooges into the Christmas spirit, the real magic happens after the sun goes down. Late in the afternoon, stop by local merchants or the Arts Council and pick up a candle for the procession from the Arts Council to the Market House. People start to gather at the Arts Council around 5 or 5:30 p.m. For many, this is the highlight of the day, as the crowd moves slowly to the market house. Once at the Market House, the crowd is treated to a fireworks display. “Some people think that this is the end of A Dickens Holiday, but far from it,” said Kinney. “The carriage rides run well into the evening, Father Christmas is still available for pictures until 8:30 p.m. and most of the local businesses remain open until 9 p.m.”
Find out more about A Dickens Holiday at www.theartscouncil.com.
Photos: Father Christmas visits A Dickens Holiday each year and is available for pictures.Story and cover photo credit: Wick Smith