Dickens Christmas Fair

More than three acres filled with Victorian holiday delights – unique gifts, sumptuous food & drink, entertainments galore!

The one and only Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party kicks off on November 25 (the Friday after Thanksgiving) and continues FOUR weekends through Sunday, December 18, 2011 at San Francisco’s historic Cow Palace.

Dickens FairThis beloved Bay Area tradition is perhaps the most elaborate, inventive and authentically Victorian Christmas event anywhere in the world… and it happens ONLY in San Francisco! Compared to many other annual holiday events, attendance and participation have surpassed expectations in recent years, and once again more than 40,000 visitors are expected this year, drawn in by traditional favorites and new shows on six stages, including the comedic Lewis Caroling Show featuring rambunctious raconteurs Mark Lewis and David Springhorn; tantalizing cooking demonstrations in the Dickens Family Parlour; an expanded Father Christmas Stage which will include the newly relocated and very popular Punch & Judy Show; and a new children’s painting garden!

Accept no imitations! Founded in 1970, the Great Dickens Christmas Fair is the wildly successful holiday original that all others have since tried to emulate. Imagine an entire lovingly re-created corner of Charles Dickens’ London, warmly lit and gaily decorated, with streets, shops, pubs, tearooms, lecture halls, theatres, a grand Music Hall, the London Dockside – an old-time world for the entire family to explore for hours on end, even over multiple days or weekends. Arrive early, stay late, or simply join us for “dinner & a show”!

Fairgoers of all ages are invited to discover the characters of Charles Dickens’ London face-to-face, as more than 700 costumed players join to re-create an authentically Victorian holiday atmosphere. You might glimpse the daring female writer George Sand dressed in trousers and strolling with Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, or Lewis Carroll, along with fictional characters come to life – Ebenezer Scrooge, Sherlock Holmes, Phileas Fogg, Tiny Tim, the Mad Hatter – mingling with authentic street characters of the period: roving chimney sweeps, street musicians, magicians, carolers, London bobbies, and saucy sailors. Gala parades (including the Toy Parade with Father Christmas daily at 1:50 pm) wind through the crowds, adding to the festivity.

queen victoria Christmas

Her Royal Majesty Queen Victoria, along with members
of her family, may be glimpsed at the Dickens Christmas Fair.
Photo credit: Raymond Van Tassel

This year, over three acres of old-world exhibition halls are magically transformed into a Victorian Christmas card come to life. This uniquely San Francisco tradition is the holiday party that generations of families have enjoyed for more than three decades. Around every corner in the winding lamp-lit streets, there’s something to amaze and delight your senses; the opportunity to applaud, marvel, carouse, dance, and mingle in a festive Victorian world makes The Great Dickens Christmas Fair unlike any other event in the world, while presenting an enchanting alternative to the typical commercial fare of the season.

Dickens Fair

Teatime at the Dickens Fair need not be a staid affair; it
can be exciting indeed, depending upon one’s companions.
Photo credit: Raymond Van Tassel

The Dickens Christmas Fair also offers a variety of toothsome treats and delectable dishes to tempt all palates. When hunger strikes, Fairgoers may refresh themselves with traditional holiday goodies, including a feast of roast beef, goose or quail, fish & chips, duck a l’orange, hot meat pies, plum and Yorkshire puddings, mulled cider and scones, hot roasted chestnuts, Ambrosia truffles, and Mrs. Bumble’s Sugar Plums. Then raise a toast with a refreshing glass of champagne, hot chocolate, hot buttered rum, or a pint of stout or ale from one of five authentic English pubs on site. Waist-watchers are invited to dance off the calories at Fezziwig’s – or discover the allure of the Victorian corset at the ever-popular Dark Garden corsetry with its live model window displays!

Dickens FairThe Yuletide season is also traditionally a time for youngsters to delight in special activities, games and gifts – and at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, holiday entertainment opportunities abound for both the young and the young at heart. For the little ones, there are visits with Father Christmas, a hand-powered Safari Adventure carousel, Punch & Judy puppet shows, the scientific and exploratorial wonders of La Legion Fantastique, a NEW children’s painting garden, as well as the chance to meet characters from A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby – even to encounter the great Charles Dickens himself!

Youngsters can also try their hand at being “printer’s devils” with an actual 1860s printing press, learn to tie intricate knots and sing sea chanteys at the Paddy West School of Seamanship, become adorned with temporary tattoos or French braiding, or create their own holiday gifts such as rolled beeswax candles and hand-painted ceramic ornaments. Children can also visit Pirates’ Cove down by the dockside, or learn to play darts at the Cat ‘n Bull Dart & Gaming Parlour.

“The Great Dickens Christmas Fair brings back the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of the times that have made Yuletide the most beloved holiday of the year,” says Kevin Patterson, director of the Fair. “Everything good about Christmas in old London is here, and it’s all real; no store-bought imitations allowed.”

Then, of course, there’s the opportunity to learn the origin of Christmas traditions. “Many people today sing Christmas songs about traditions they’ve never experienced,” says Patterson, “but numerous familiar Yuletide customs, like holiday caroling, started in 19th-century England. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, introduced the Christmas tree, and the practice of decorating with evergreens to his adopted realm.”

And who can resist the opportunity to visit the shops of London, in search of that perfect holiday gift? Bid farewell to the frenetic shopping malls of the 21st century and revel instead in a wonderland of one-of-a-kind artisan treasures: Victorian reproductions, fine art, romantic clothing, handsome drinkware, most unusual ceramics, dazzling jewelry and accessories, even an overstocked antiquarian bookseller – more than100 costumed vendors, many of whom return year after year to sell their wares at the Fair.

Adult patrons love to gather at Mad Sal’s Dockside Alehouse, where they can join in singing rowdy favorites and watch bold, high-kicking dancers take to the stage for a wicked Can-Can Bijou. The immensely popular and roguish production of the “Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Revue” with all new tableaux vivants returns for the sixth year in a row to the Victoria & Albert Theatre. Enjoy a glimpse of the naughty inner reveries of a stalwart Englishman, Horatio Everard, Esq., and view the very flower of English Womanhood in bloom – a risqué exhibition of beauty unveiled! This immensely popular Twilight hour entertainment is sure to beguile and delight the adults in the audience. Admission to this attraction is free, but you must request tickets upon arrival at the Fair; they go quickly and guests must be 18 or older to gain admission.

Satisfy the appetite, kindle the imagination & welcome the Season with us! For more information, please visit

[Photos: Raymond Van Tassel]


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