DICKENS on the strand
TIME TRAVEL TO A VICTORIAN WINTER ON THE GULF COAST
BY CHRISTINA GARCIA Photos: Visit Galveston
A block from the bay on Galveston Island, Victorian times come alive during the annual Dickens on The Strand festival held this year from December 2nd through the 4th. For three days, top hats and hoop skirts are back in fashion, and visitors toast the lords and ladies in cutaway coats and corsets. Hosted in Galveston’s Historic Strand District — once considered the “Wall Street of the Southwest” — this time capsule of an event spans several blocks from 24th street going east between The Strand and Mechanic Street.
Surrounded by a fascinating mix of elegant and flamboyant Victorian-era architecture in the city, this party helped preserve the 1800s-built beauty of The Strand, shooing off developers who might have mowed over the surrounding antique structures.
Period dress is encouraged, so wear your best “seaside costume” if you wish, but don’t worry if you’re not inclined. Once a strict presentation of historically accurate garb, food, and street wares, the festival atmosphere is a lot looser today. Entire families might show up in pirate gear, harkening back to the times of pirate Jean Lafitte. Festival food is a bit more common than roasted chestnuts, at least on the streets, but the Victorian celebration still thrives almost three decades since the fest’s inception in 1974.
Take in the sunshine and promenade with carolers, musicians, and even descendants of Charles Dickens himself in a historically distinguished city paying homage to one of England’s great writers.
AT THE FEST
Fezziwig’s Friday Festival Kick-Off is a free evening jamboree to start the weekend-long festivities, but Saturday and Sunday are stacked with the most attractions. For example, the beard contest called Albert’s Whimsical Whisker Review, held Saturday at 5 PM at the Windsor Castle Stage, awards the best Rip Van Winkle (full beard), Most Impressive Piccadilly Weepers (sideburns), Finest Gatter Soaker (mustache), and more.
When at a Dickens festival, only the mirthless would miss the Victorian costume contest on Saturday at 3:30 PM on the Westminster Abbey Stage, sure to attract the most lace-ruched, ornamented, and jauntily hatted of all in attendance. For my shillings, viewing Pickwick’s Lanternlight Parade illuminating The Strand at 6:30 PM. on Saturday would urge me to attend. This parade and those held at 2 PM on Saturday and Sunday might be the highlight of the sensational daily affairs.
Not to be outshined, Sunday’s Victorian bed races down Mechanic Street seem to blow away the winter blues with silly Christmasthemed beds being rushed down the street with a team taking turns on the mattress. As for Dickens’ descendants, plan to meet Ollie Dickens, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Charles, and other family members who take time to walk the streets greeting guests at all special events and parades.
OUTSIDE THE FEST
Ring in the season with a handbell concert inside 1859 St. Joseph’s Church, a beautiful whitewashed German Catholic church made of wood. The acoustics are exceptional, according to the church itself, and three performances take place on Friday night for those with advance tickets.
The Dickens Soiree, held at the breathtaking 1892 Bishop Palace — built with the intention of being the most elaborate house in Texas at the time — offers a “curated food and drink menu” with live music, acrobats, and other performances Friday evening. Advance tickets are necessary.
Mysterious until the end, or at least about one week before the fete for guests with reserved tickets, Dickens After Dark takes place on Friday and Saturday at a secret location on The Strand. Promising drinks and performances, this might be the way to go for a surprise if that’s your cup of tea. Enjoy breakfast in the first mansion built on Galveston Island by joining The Dickensian Breakfast at 1859 Ashton Villa on Saturday or Sunday. The mansion is otherwise closed to visitors (The Galveston Island Visitors Center is in a rear house), so this breakfast offers a unique chance to view the restored splendor.
Tea with the Captain’s wife on 1877 Tall Ship Elissa is a stop for tea and biscuits on Galveston’s Historic Seaport. You’ll be regaled with historical stories, likely from when Galveston was one of the leading ship ports and boomtowns in the south, and you’ll watch the crew at work.
What’s a Dickens Festival without the author’s most popular work, A Christmas Carol? Enjoy performances on Friday and Saturday at the historic, beautifully detailed 1894 Opera House. If a curated walking tour suits your fancy, St. Arnold’s guided group tour around The Strand includes three complimentary craft beers.
Visit GalvestonHistory.org/events/dickenson-the-strand for more information, admission tickets, and tickets to special events.