The holiday season is a truly special time of year — even more so in the greater Fayetteville area because there are so many wonderful events and traditions to celebrate the season. This year marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most well-loved and well-known local traditions: the Dickens Holiday.
Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the streets of downtown Fayetteville are transformed into a bustling Victorian village complete with wandering carolers, horse-drawn carriages, Father Christmas, gingerbread, spiced cider, vendors and characters straight out of the Dickens masterpiece A Christmas Carol. The event runs from 1-9 p.m. and is packed with interesting characters, activities and locations. One of the highlights of the day is the candlelight procession from the Arts Council to the Market House. This year the event has a few additional treats to enjoy.
In addition to Scrooge, Marley and the other characters from A Christmas Carol, actors portraying people who actually knew Queen Victoria will join the festivities. The queen has been quite popular at the event in past years and this will let the crowd peek into her world.
“Our favorite characters like Scrooge will still be there but we are adding a whole new layer of characters to enrich this experience — all of whom have a connection to Queen Victoria and her court.” said Mary Kinney, marketing director for the Arts Council Fayetteville/Cumberland County. “We are looking to add some depth to the Dickens experience and to be more diverse and educational. We really want to offer a deeper educational experience. Everything we do is an opportunity for lifelong learning. It isn’t about the performance. It is about what you learn from it. I hope people take something beyond the performance and it is perfect timing — our 15th year. What better year to celebrate than by adding the next layer to programming?”
Meet Sara Forbes Bonetta. Played by local actress Kaity Parson, Bonetta is known as Queen Victoria’s goddaughter. Bonetta was originally from what is now west Nigeria and was brought to England as a child.
“Kaity is doing a lot of research into Sara’s life and will give a monologue at the Dickens Holiday,” said Kinney. “If you are not familiar with Sara Forbes Bonetta’s story, it is worth researching.”
Local actor Sonny Kelly portrays Ira Aldridge, an African-American Shakespearean actor from New York City who made his way to London. He performed not just for Queen Victoria but all over Europe, including Russia and Austria. He was known by many as “African Roscius.” Don’t miss Kelly’s monologue where he will share some of Aldridge’s adventures.
Visit Annie’s Ale House, another new addition to the popular event.
“Annie’s Ale House is a food court and performance area behind the Arts Council,” said Kinney. “We’ll have beer and wine. Annie’s Ale House is open from 1-9 p.m., but programming in that area really picks up after the fireworks during Dickens After Dark. In Annie’s Ale House we will have the Belfast Boys. It is rich music that is very upbeat. It includes instruments like mandolins and has a very toe-tapping kind of beat. That will be an exciting spot to be after the fireworks.”
This year Habitat for Humanity and H&H Homes join the festivities as sponsors of the gingerbread village.
“People from our own community will create buildings that make the village. It can be police stations, hospitals, houses — pretty much anything that you would find in a community. People are signing up now to participate. There are forms at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. The opportunity during Dickens is to come and see the finished community of hope. There is no charge to enter,” explained Kinney.
Most events run continuously throughout the day, and there is much to experience. Ride through the streets of downtown in a horse-drawn carriage. Have a photo taken with Father Christmas. Sample hot cider, gingerbread and more. Shop the many vendors and businesses. Visit Annie’s Ale House for a bite to eat. Chat with historical figures and literary characters. Don’t miss one of the highlights of the day, Fayetteville’s biggest candlelight procession from the Arts Council to the Market House.
“While most things happen throughout the day, enjoy the one thing that happens at a certain time — the procession,” said Kinney. “Everyone gathers in front of the Arts Council at 5:30 p.m., where you can get a free candle — while supplies last. Then we all proceed to the Market House together. It is the city’s largest procession and the fireworks are beautiful.”
The event doesn’t end once the fireworks are over. “There is so much going on that people will want to stay,” said Kinney.
A Dickens Holiday is a collaborative effort between the Arts Council Fayetteville/Cumberland County and the Downtown Alliance. It runs from 1-9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 28 and encompasses the heart of downtown. Find out more at www.theartscouncil.com or by calling 323-1776.
Photo: Join the festivities as downtown turns Victorian at A Dickens Holiday on Friday, Nov. 28.