Have you ever wanted to visit Victorian England on Christmastime? Well, unless you have a time machine, that’s not going to happen, but a very close second is The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, held in the San Francisco Cow Palace. (And if you do happen to go there dressed as a time traveler, nobody will think less of you for it.)
From the outside, it just seems to be rows of small buildings with tin roofs. Inside, however, snow falls to the ground and everything becomes so much classier, as well-dressed men and women walk around and tip their hats to you, wishing you a happy Christmas in British accents. If you keep an eye out, you might see Ebenezer Scrooge following around one of the various ghosts that haunts him, or perhaps a procession leading the Queen through town.
One of the first things you’ll see upon entering is a dance hall, where demonstrations occasionally take place, and attendees can learn dances from the era. As a note, I apologize to anyone reading this whose feet I might have stepped on while there. When you tire of that, then there’s a theater close by where one can sit down and enjoy some Gilbert and Sullivan.
For those who are hungry for some food, there are stands located all around the fair, offering bangers and mash, fish and chips, fish fingers and custard – okay, probably not that last one, but you get my point. If you have a sweet tooth, there are some pastry shops tucked away with delicious cookies, although 11th Doctor cosplayers may have trouble finding jammy dodgers.
Don’t have a costume? No problem, there are plenty of stores willing to sell you the latest in Victorian fashion. That may not be for the light of wallet, though, as the costs can be pretty expensive; a vest will be upwards of sixty dollars, and a good top hat will be even more, although you are paying for quality.
There are also some games for children to enjoy, such as one where they throw boots at cutouts of cats. For those who prefer games of skill, two dollars will get you three darts to throw. If you’re there at the right time, children can take a trip to Wonderland and play golf with peacocks, as demonstrated by Alice and the Queen of Hearts.
The Adventurer’s Club is a place I occasionally visited, as there were various events held there throughout the day. Sometimes there would be readings of books and poetry, other times mingling, and at one point there was a drawing session where artists of all skill levels could sketch Guinevere knighting Sir Lancelot. Aside from that, there were booths and stages set all around the fair, featuring performances or actors talking to guests in-character.
While walking about, it’s easy to spot people working at the fair engaging in rehearsed scenes all around. Some would act out scenes from Charles Dickens novels such as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, while others would just chat for a bit before entertaining a guest, but it added to the feel of the fair.
As mentioned previously, the Dickens Fair is no stranger to time travel. It’s not too hard to spot someone cosplaying as the Doctor from Doctor Who (who usually does not appear out of place anyways), and I myself recently attended as the 10th Doctor. Last Saturday there was a gathering of Whovians there, proving once again that with all of time and space to travel, the Doctor prefers England. Most of the staff (at least the ones I encountered) were also Whovians, and there were small easter eggs hidden around the fair for the sharp-eyed fan to spot.
All in all, the Dickens Fair is a great way to spend a day in the city. Whether you’re there for the food, the activities, or to step back into a different time, there’s plenty to do and enjoy. Personally, I make a point to go at least once a year, and I always look forward to the next.