Dickens Christmas Opens Nov. 26 in Skaneateles
From the world’s smallest Christmas parade to a visit by New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton, lots of surprises are in store
When Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria take up residence in Skaneateles this holiday season, they will be accompanied by a new dignitary—New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton—as the three make their way to this Finger Lakes village via the historic Erie Canal.
The year is 1842. Charles Dickens is gathering research for his soon-to-be-written classic, “A Christmas Carol.” On village streets, he encounters Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, and a bevy of other characters.
Magic, music and merriment prevail, as the revels play, visitors ride by in horse–drawn carriages, and improvisational street theater rules the day.
It’s all part of Dickens Christmas, which returns for its 17th year the Friday after Thanksgiving. The production runs noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 19, with a limited show (noon to 3 p.m.) Dec. 24.
The family-friendly event—produced by Scarlett Rat Entertainment and sponsored by the Skaneateles-area business community—draws some 20,000 visitors each year.
“We invite Dickens fans from near and far to step back in time and join us for a slower-paced, more enjoyable atmosphere, where shopping can still be fun,” says Susan Dove, director of the Skaneateles Foundation. “We have more than 70 shops and restaurants, sure to please any taste.”
• The World’s Smallest Christmas Parade, which kicks off Nov. 26 at noon. The parade—featuring Charles Dickens and his entourage and a handful of floats—begins at the old firehouse and continues down Fennell, Jordan and Genesee streets, arriving at the Sherwood Inn in time for the 12:10 p.m. grand opening.
• The Revels Live—Christmas carol sing-along—2 p.m. every day at the Gazebo. Twelve groups form, each representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. The groups vie for attention, and at the end, Queen Victoria awards a silver teasel to the most spirited performer. Winners have been known to wear their coveted silver teasels throughout the season.
• Magic shows by John Henry Anderson, Wonderful Wizard from the North, Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 1 and 3 p.m. at the Skaneateles Library.
• Scenes from “A Christmas Carol,” featuring guests from the audience, performed at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on the steps of the Masonic Temple.
• Free horse-drawn wagon rides around the village, departing from the Sherwood Inn.
• Free refreshments, including roasted chestnuts outside Johnny Angel’s, and hot chocolate served by the Girl Scouts.
For children, Mother Goose will read holiday stories at the Skaneateles Library and Father Christmas will hand out treats from the porch of the Masonic Temple.
And everyone is invited to borrow free costumes from the Skaneateles Chamber, so that they can partake in the activities in style.
Journeying Along the Canal
Adding a bit of local history to the plot, Dickens, Clinton and Queen Victoria will have arrived in Skaneateles via a ride on the Erie Canal aboard a Mid-Lakes Navigation vessel. During their stay in the village, they will recount details of their voyage and marvel at the engineering wonder of the canal.
According to Sarah Wiles, a co-owner of Mid-Lakes Navigation, their journey from New York City would have taken about six days, as compared to two weeks by stagecoach, and involved passage through 50 locks.
“The boats were more comfortable than coaches, but not luxurious,” she says, “though such special passengers would probably have had better accommodations than most. Typically, berths were stacked up to three deep in a sleeping cabin and divided—according to gender—by a curtain down the middle.
“Most people understand the freight advantage of water transport, but the Erie Canal was also the Internet of its day, serving as a route for the exchange of ideas as people moved across the state and the country. Suffrage for women, utopian ideas, as well as religious and political philosophies flew from town to town on the waterway.”
Creating the Show
Dickens Christmas has a cast of about 65, which is joined by a variety of guest musicians and caroling groups. The show comes together in just six rehearsals. “We pack a lot in and streamline the process of building a character,” says Jim Greene, of Dryden, who is producing director and plays Dickens. “Every actor learns music and uses improvisational techniques to build his character and become part of the ensemble.”
Assisting Greene are Maria Wechsler, of Marcellus, who is artistic director and plays Queen Victoria; Brian Goldblatt, of Lafayette, who is associate director and plays Jacob Marley; Krystal Scott, of Weedsport, who is choral director; and Tracey Greene, of Dryden, who is wardrobe supervisor.
“We’re pleased to be exploring local history this year and incorporating events related to Skaneateles into the production,” says Greene. “I’m always excited about the magic we create, and the magic that people bring to this show. Everyone gets into it.”
For more information on Dickens Christmas, go to http://www.skaneateles.com or call 315-685-0552.