Arts and CultureSF Bay Area

The Immersive Holiday Spectacular, The Great Dickens Fair, is Back!

Updated: Nov 23, 2022 20:49
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Please note: It’s been brought to our attention that there’s a boycott going on. We did not know this when we visited. Here’s a link to more information on the boycott as well as information published by the producers of Dickens Fair, Red Barn Productions, so that you can make your own decision.
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After a two-year hiatus, The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party (known simply as Dickens Fair) has reopened to help you build lasting memories. Find an adventure around every corner. Open weekends through December 18, 2022, including the Friday after Thanksgiving, you’ll find this immersive theatrical event at The Cow Palace in Daly City.

The clowns of the fair – chimney sweeps will make you giggle – photo by Vita Hewitt

Though the event has been around for 38 seasons, I’m a newbie to this holiday tradition and went to scope it out on their opening day this past Saturday. As a first-time patron of the fair, with only one day to get as much as I could in, there are several things I’ve decided you can’t miss. Many things you can’t find anywhere else outside of this holiday spectacular.

Dancers will surely entertain you – photo by Vita Hewitt

Start with a Tour of London

Over 4 acres have been dedicated to an immersive experience that has hundreds of precious moments inside holiday-themed shops, pubs, stages, and dance halls. Some of us love meandering around with no schedule but for some, a guide might be the way to go.

A literal city has been built within the Cow Palace. Over 2 weeks, master carpenters and artists created a stunning display with holiday garland decorating every nook and cranny of the event. Theatrical guides will give you the lay of the land in a tour of London via a narrated tour that will likely include characters from the works of Mr Dickens himself.

If you miss a tour, be sure you grab a map of the city. It’s important if you’re looking for something specific.

Take a tour of London with this character – photo by Vita Hewitt

High Tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe

When my friend and I first showed up, we were hit with an intoxicating smell of cinnamon. This made us look for some coffee or tea to walk around with. We found ourselves at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe and saw that there was a full tea service – complete with little tea sandwiches, tarts and scones with several kinds of toppings like butter, lemon curd and jam.

High tea is a perfect way to spend your time – photo by Vita Hewitt

Tables are close to each other in a way that feels communal and friendly.We were sat next to two women who became our fast friends. Gretha (age 92), her daughter and granddaughter have been going to The Dickens Christmas Fair for 10 years and it’s become a family tradition they never miss out on.

Gretha said the one activity they can’t miss is having high tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe. This year, they said, the tickets for high tea sold out too quickly but they were happy to find that anyone could come and get a table for high-tea throughout the day.

We made a pact to meet up with our new friends later in the day after some more adventuring and wandering around the beautiful festival.

My new friend Gretha (age 92) at tea – photo by Vita Hewitt

New This Year: The Sherlock Holmes Experience:

Become a junior detective and work with Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson to solve a mystery. “Unravel malevolent misdeeds in a world of international intrigue and try to stop the nefarious villains before they strike and change the course of history.”

While I was walking around, I found a few detectives on the case and asked them about it. They said it was a great way to have purpose while exploring the entirety of the space and a fun adventure with friends. It added an extra fun adventure between friends.

The Sherlock Holmes Experience in action – photo by Vita Hewitt

Adventures Everywhere!

With acres of space, there are several stages you will stumble upon during your day at Dickens Fair. You can watch salty seaman singing sea shanties, watch a gypsy dance, peep a fun band playing music, listen to some carolers, watch waltzing, visit with Santa, or enjoy a musical. Beyond the shows you can enjoy countless hands on events and experiences. We found a massive booth where you could build your own fairy booth but also saw drawing rooms where people were drawing together.

Waiting for my eggnog at a bar – photo by Vita Hewitt

The food tho! The food is delicious. My favorite were the piroshki but I also really enjoyed the simplicity of the cucumber sandwich I enjoyed at tea time. Those who would love to sit and drink an English Ale will find bars sprinkled around the venue.

Every bar has its own theme or style. I ended up getting an eggnog at the bar I found but soon after we ended up in an absinthe bar. You could honestly spend the whole day eating your way through the fair and not at all be disappointed if this was the adventure you had chosen.

Dapper bartender serves absinth – photo by Vita Hewitt

Shops all feature the Highest Level of Craftsmanship:

As a daughter of a working artist, I’ve been to hundreds of craft shows throughout my lifetime. If you go with me to an event, expect me to be the weird art kid flipping a mug over to see how it was made or examining the connection points of a sculpture. How things are made, who made them and the quality of a piece of art matters to me.

Beautiful shop inside Dickens Fair – photo by Vita Hewitt

With that clearing, I can say with confidence that the level of craftsmanship at The Dickens Fair far exceeds any other craft or art fair I’ve been to in a very long time. As a contrast for those who enjoy going to shows where folks are selling their handmade wares, the goods at this event are often made in a more old-world style.

Nearly 100 beautiful shops and carts feature handmade goods or quality manufactured goods. Everything I saw just blew my socks off. I kept turning to my friend with a massive smile on my face every time we saw a new piece of art. You will find that the price point for some goods is that of more of an investment piece, I was able to find plenty of moderately priced items.

Outside of Books and Prints – photo by Vita Hewitt

Each shop is special and unique in it’s own way. When you walk by them they all look like old store fronts you’d be able to find in London. Enter into any one of them and you will feel transported into an old world shop of your dreams. Whether you’re looking for a full Victorian era outfit or a new wand for your collection, you will find a shop that suits your needs.

Fairy house making – photo by Vita Hewitt

I was able to find an adorable candle shop which had a station where you were encouraged to dip your own candle. For under $10 you are taught how to choose your own colors and guided through the experience. There were many moments like these around the event – moments where an experience was both kid and adult friendly.

Dipping a candle is a fun DIY experience – photo by Vita Hewitt

Little Special Moments Everywhere

I think what struck me most throughout the event were the special moments being formed everywhere. The immersive experience transports you into a world where there is joy to be found around every corner. Those working really made you feel special.

You could sit for hours making a fairy house or you could sit for hours watching a show. You would have just as much fun as someone like myself who chose to bop around all day. The moments you savor within this space are moments you will never forget. There are hundreds of special little corners of this place – more than I could enjoy in one day. 

SANTA!!! – photo by Vita Hewitt

For me, the most special part of the day was meeting my new friends at tea and meeting up again later to talk about our days. Sitting across from my new friends later in the afternoon, it felt sweet and unforgettable that a place like this quirky, fun, imaginative place brought strangers together and created moments we will never forget.

I wholeheartedly believe that there are special memories you create, unforgettable smiles you share, and the tiny little special moments of joy at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party which can only be experienced there.

THE DETAILS ALL ROLLED UP IN ONE SPOT:

WHEN:  Opens Saturday, November 19 and runs Saturdays and Sundays (plus the Friday after Thanksgiving) through December 18, 2022, from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

WHERE: The Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City, CA

TICKETS & INFORMATION:  www.dickensfair.com
How much: Tickets range from $18 – $45, are date-specific and must be purchased in advance, online only. Please see dickensfair.com  for details on General Admission, Group Sales and other special discounts. Tickets are limited so you’ll want to be sure to get your tickets early.

You can get your own wand from this character – photo by Vita Hewitt

Covid Safety measure information from the organizers: “To improve the safety of Fair patrons and participants, the event organizers have put in place numerous Covid safety measures: daily attendance will be capped and controlled via advance, online ticket purchasing only; ventilation has been significantly increased with large industrial fans; and the event layout has been modified to allow for doorways throughout the event buildings to be left open. Masks are recommended for those who are sensitive, immune-compromised, or unvaccinated and hand sanitizers are available throughout the venue. For further details on this year’s enhancements, please visit the COVID-19 Information section on the Dickens Fair’s FAQ page.

Carolers – photo by Vita Hewitt

Special Discounts:

Active Military: 1st & 2nd Weekends Free Admission: Active Military personnel along with three (3) family members will receive FREE Admission for the first two weekends, November 19, 20, 25, 26, 27. (Available at Will Call only. Photo I.D. required.)

Twilight Special (entry after 3:00 pm)

A great excuse to visit for a second time for a date night, dinner, or a show!
Twilight Adult Admission (13+): $30.00
Twilight Youth Admission (13+): $18.00
Group Tickets: For groups of 20 or more, contact Kathy Alvarez Kingman at groupsales@dickensfair.com.

On-Site Parking: $15/car, $30/RV or bus (cash or credit, charged by the Cow Palace)

Mr. Charles Dickens himself

NOTE: All photos are by Vita Hewitt

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

21 Comments

  1. David Vangerov
    November 21, 2022 at 1:16 pm — Reply

    Thank you for your kind words about the the tea shoppe. The correct name of the tea shoppe, however, is Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe.

  2. John Ball
    November 21, 2022 at 3:54 pm — Reply

    Hm, no mention of the ongoing strike/boycott?

  3. John Ball
    November 21, 2022 at 4:39 pm — Reply

    No mention of the ongoing strike/boycott?

  4. November 21, 2022 at 5:32 pm — Reply

    I’m not surprised but I wish there was mention of the boycott (not a strike)

    https://sites.google.com/londonsolidaritynetwork.org/homepage/home/

    https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/festivals/not-a-safe-space-black-cast-members-boycott-dickens-fair-over-failure-to-prevent-racist-behavior

    While steps have been taken, the issues are still not fixed, and hundreds of performers and other past participants remain committed to the boycott.

  5. James C
    November 21, 2022 at 5:54 pm — Reply

    In your coverage of this Fair have you checked in with any of the women mentioned in this article, or current Boycott news from the London Solidarity Network?

    https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/festivals/not-a-safe-space-black-cast-members-boycott-dickens-fair-over-failure-to-prevent-racist-behavior

  6. Valerie
    November 21, 2022 at 6:13 pm — Reply

    More info about the minimum requirements for safe Dickens Faire here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Bc2C2fcgLCnSgOYbljsggWuaLK2gpPdG/view

    London Solidarity Network: https://sites.google.com/londonsolidaritynetwork.org/homepage/home

  7. Jonna Hayden
    November 21, 2022 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    Thank you for visiting with us! We’ve worked hard to make the Fair welcoming to everyone, and the diversity of our patrons this weekend was quite wonderful. I’m so glad you mentioned the artists–we work hard to have quality, one-of-a-kind items for our visitors. Many of our shops are owned by marginalized community members, and your glowing review of our work is such a blessing. Please come and see us again!

  8. Kristen
    November 21, 2022 at 6:46 pm — Reply

    Thank you for the kind review! You certainly hit all the highlights. 🙌🏼💕

  9. Thalassa
    November 21, 2022 at 6:51 pm — Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. We are so glad you enjoyed your time at the Fair!

  10. Jennifer Damico
    November 21, 2022 at 9:39 pm — Reply

    While I’m glad you enjoyed your experience there is a worker and boycott underway due to management mishandling of several human rights issues including racism, and sexual harassment. You can find more information at https://sites.google.com/londonsolidaritynetwork.org/homepage/home/?pli=1 and also by reading https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/festivals/not-a-safe-space-black-cast-members-boycott-dickens-fair-over-failure-to-prevent-racist-behavior/amp

  11. Tiffany
    November 21, 2022 at 11:31 pm — Reply

    Thank you for such a lovely article! I’ve participated at the fair for about twenty years with my family, in both shows & shops, we love it! Everyone there this past weekend, participants & patrons, were so excited to have Dickens Fair back open!!

  12. Juanita
    November 22, 2022 at 1:34 pm — Reply

    I clicked on your “link to more information,” and I’m disappointed to see that the boycott information, despite saying 2022, seems otherwise to be old, and does not appear to have been updated at all since last year.

    • fiona64
      November 23, 2022 at 8:29 am — Reply

      Hi, Juanita. My understanding (and I am one of those boycotting to support those who have been harmed) is that LSN is in the process of preparing an updated Minimum Safe Requirements list that acknowledges progress made and emphasizes issues still outstanding. There are a lot of moving parts to this process. The vast majority of MSR has not been met.

  13. November 23, 2022 at 8:36 am — Reply

    Two things – the photos do not reflect the increasing diversity of both the Fair’s vending and performing staff, but our attendees. Were any photos taken that show that? How could you miss the Black Ghost of Christmas Present, the Brown and APPI hosts at the Fezziwig’s Warehouse, and so on?

    Also, the Fair has done a great deal to address DEI and harassment issues, and is continuing to do so. Perhaps before simply inserting something about the boycott you could have reached out to the producers to determine what was happening on the other side of things?

    This is a one page distillation but other links follow that provide greater detail:
    https://drive.google.com/drive/u/3/folders/1JgB7PDe5JDiNT8RdJYVA7dzLdHRUQCNH
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xHzcgRGCdo4YBK9YMucQ2k2i05SMQLCf/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/drive/u/3/folders/1JgB7PDe5JDiNT8RdJYVA7dzLdHRUQCNH

    https://drive.google.com/drive/u/3/folders/1JgB7PDe5JDiNT8RdJYVA7dzLdHRUQCNH

    • Katy Atchison
      November 23, 2022 at 8:33 pm — Reply

      Sounds like I missed some really great experiences when I was there. It was a busy day and there was a lot of great things to see.
      Also, thank you for bringing the other the links to my attention.

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