Forget about all of Turkey Day’s rich foods and the celebratory drinks. From cornbread stuffing to pumpkin and sweet potato pie, slabs of pecan pie and loads of green bean casserole, with mashed potatoes, yeast rolls and globs of cranberry sauce, Thanksgiving has it all. Aside from being the “opening” of the holiday season, it provides a great opportunity to gather with friends, celebrates thankfulness and eats and eat and eat.
Galvestonians certainly enjoy their meals and celebrations as folks gather in private homes, open restaurants, and bars, and even beachside to enjoy the holiday. Though a few of the favorite nightspots choose to close for the day, the Island manages to offer some fun “hot spots” for evening adventures. It is a good thing that the feasting is on a Thursday and that Friday is generally a write-off as it takes a few days to recover from the celebration.
Speaking of celebrations and holiday festivities, the next biggest to Mardi Gras kicks off Friday, December 6 and continues through Sunday, December 8. For three days the 46th Annual Dickens on the Strand festival transforms the downtown Strand area into 19th century Victorian England. This wonderful Island event has become a holiday tradition for islanders and visitors from all over the world. Growing bigger and bigger each year, the three-day festival includes something for everyone. Put on by the Galveston Historical Foundation, the event has become a huge tourist draw and boom to the Island’s economy. Visitors come to enjoy the three days and many stays in hotels, rentals and a vast number of private homes that are offered. Island restaurants and clubs do a great business with all excitement and participation.
If you have never attended a Dickens festival, you might wonder, “Just what is it and what is all the fuss?” Simply put, it is a great time! A great time to forget your troubles, politics and other 21st century maladies and step back into jolly olde England! As Victorian costumes are encouraged (attendees in costume get into the festival for half price), the brick streets and gas-lamped sidewalks of the area are filled with folks in costumes of all sorts, shapes, and colors.
John Brick, former City Manager of Jamaica Beach, dresses each year as a Victorian police officer or “bobby”, with whistle and nightstick, to stroll around the festival and have his picture taken with hundreds of visitors.
“I love it,” said Brick. “The dressing up and meeting all the people is the best part…seeing all the smiles.” (Note: The term “bobby” comes from Sir Robert Peel who created the London police force in 1829. Officers are sometimes referred to as “Peelers.”) The Dickens, you say!
Inside the festival, visitors find six stages of live entertainment, colorful vendors, street urchins, and beggars (some groups complete with ol’ Fagin himself), choirs, carriages containing royalty, pirates, acrobats, oddballs, and curiosities. Each year, the steampunk crowd gets larger and larger. Just to walk among all the costumes and watch the interactions is in itself an amazing experience.
There is the food of every kind; however, no visit to the Dickens festival is complete without a Scotch Egg. These deep-fried delights are a huge hit every year and washing one down with a pint of ale makes it even better! There are wenches, barmaids, and even a “lady of the evening” or two strolling around. Just as in the days and nights of Victorian England, downtown Galveston, for three days, is full of noise, laughter, and fun — minus the coal soot.
There are parades throughout the festival but a must-see is the night parade or Queen’s Parade. With a snow machine blowing white flakes over the parade route, viewers are transformed to another era and place; it is magical, to say the least. Locals dressed as Beefeaters escort Queen Victoria and thrill the crowds by posing for pictures before, during, and after the parades.
There are nine special events ranging from teas, full meals, readings, and handbell concerts to book signings with actual descendants of Charles Dickens that have come from England. The Dickens descendants are a huge hit and over the years have come to love and find a special place in their hearts for Galveston Island and its people. They come each year and share their beloved relative with visitors.
The Bishop’s Palace on Broadway is the site of several events. Tickets go fast and some events book early. For a complete listing of events and festival activities, check GalvestonHistory.org, as well as Galveston.com.
Regardless of what you are looking for, Dickens on the Strand has something for you, even it is just people watching or shopping for the perfect Christmas gift. Get all gussied-up and check it out!
There is no entry charge on Friday evening. Pre-festival tickets are $13 for adults and $7 for children (7–12). At the gate, tickets prices are $15 for adults and $9 for children. Visitors dressing in costume are admitted for half-price at the gate. There are also some special package deals with the 1894 Grand Opera House. A production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is scheduled Friday, Dec. 6, 8 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 7, 3 p.m. A combination package offers $5 off the theater performance and a $10 entry ticket good for one day.