Each year since 1978, Cow Palace (a giant arena just a few miles south of downtown San Francisco) transforms itself into an experience that will have you believing you somehow wandered out of the 21st century and into a Dickens novel.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a holiday staple in San Francisco. For five weekends each year, Cow Palace becomes a living, breathing version of 19th century London.
Hundreds of actors, vendors, and even participants are welcome to come in costume (the website provides details on what kinds of costumes you can wear since only the professional actors are permitted to come as specific Dickens characters).
Unique booths, carolers, period costume shops, pubs, food, beautiful handmade jewelry and other items line the “streets”. Groups of actors gathered around barrels regale passersby with Dickens tales. Drop into the bookstore and listen to a dramatic reading…or twelve. Everything is done with such dedication to maintaining the illusion and experience – it’s really inspiring.
Walking through the maze of shops, stages, reading rooms, and pubs with Dickens characters like Scrooge, Jacob Marley, and even the Ghost of Christmas Future, you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement and wish you were dressed up too…at least it did for me! The friends I was with felt that they would need to have a lot more ale before agreeing to such a thing.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Father Christmas as well, and don’t be afraid to ask anyone in costume for a photograph – they welcome it!
If you’re ever in San Francisco during the Christmas season, this event should be a must-do on your list…you won’t be disappointed.