This weekend heralded the beginning of the annual Dickens Christmas Fair, which runs each Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd. A Bay Area tradition for more than four decades where each day of the Fair is a theatrical experience taking attendees back to a night before Christmas in the 1860s.
On arriving at the Cow Palace, the outside of the long concrete buildings gives little sign about the magic that’s being created with. As soon as one steps inside, you can hear the exclamations of wonder by others around you as they see the darkened streets of London, with scatterings of snow whisking around as people move about. Ambient theatrical lighting helps set the tone, with additional light spilling out from the myriad shops and stages.
The cast of hundreds moves through the streets along with a far larger number of costumed patrons. Coming in costume is welcomed, but by no means required. Just as many patrons are walking about in jeans and t-shirts as there are with day dresses and tailcoats.
One element of the faire that continues to be developed and expanded year over year are the areas with a focus on entertainment and activities for the younger patrons. Children come face to face with fairies, elves, Father Christmas, Bo Peep, Alice, and many others.
Be sure to make sure to take one of the free programs handed out when you come into the Fair. There’s a map in the centerfold that will make becoming accustomed to the layout (as well as how to find your way to the restrooms) far easier.
There are children-friendly activities spread all over the Fair, but the area from the Tinsley Green down to the Carousel across from the Empire of Wonders is a bastion of all kinds of fun for the younger folks. Painting, crafts, stage plays, can all be found happening throughout the day.
The schedule for the Father Christmas stage is:
- 11:00 The Toy Parade
- 11:30 Tea with Alice
- 12:00 Punch & Judy
- 12:30 The Bold Tailor
- 1:00 Father Christmas
- 2:00 Punch & Judy
- 2:30 The Bold Tailor
- 3:00 Tales from Mother Goose
- 3:30 Alice’s croquet with the Red Queen
- 4:00 Punch & Judy
- 4:30 Rats in the Haggis
Among the new additions is also an activity booth where an unfinished and unpainted fairy house can be purchased and young and old alike can have a spectacular time painting, adding just the right touches of moss, twigs, pebbles and more to make it their very own. I watched kids having a great time, but I saw several parents deciding that they wanted to join the action and started working on their own. The fairy houses can be found just across from the Tea Parlor at the end away from the Father Christmas stage.
In case there’s a need to have a place to deposit some of the arts and crafts and other purchases, there’s a coat check booth just inside of the Fair’s main entrance adjacent to the alestand.
There are also children’s games that are played at 10:40 and 2:40 in the Fezzywig’s dance party area.
Above everything, encourage the kids to enjoy themselves and if they should recognize one of the characters wandering through the streets (such as Alice, or the White Rabbit), perhaps wave and say hello. Watching a boy or girl look up at Queen Victoria and waving hello, or having a conversation with Oliver and the Artful Dodger are moments to behold as characters from books and television come to life.
“An experience for the whole family,” is a too often used phrase, but in the case of the Dickens Christmas Fair, it really is appropriate.
The Fair runs Saturday and Sundays until December 23rd from 10am until 7pm. Tickets can be bought online or at the door.