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My Day at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco

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Yesterday I literally went back in time to Victorian England. OK, maybe not literally, but I still had a bitchin’ time at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace. As promised, here’s my firsthand account of the day. If you don’t feel like reading through it (hater), I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes: Dickens Fair is awesome. Check it out.

I brought my friend Sean along as my guest, because he’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and really, you need to enjoy Dickens Fair with someone who can really get into it. We were instantly delighted by … everything. When you walk into the Cow Palace, you’re greeted by a slew of costumed characters, fun smells (mulled spices, not cows), and about eight different directions to go in. It’s overstimulating in the best way possible. We decided to start with some shopping—I was instantly drawn to Leather Masks and Whirlwood Wands. Sadly, the masks were out of my price range and the wands weren’t actually magic. Still, it was fun to browse.

Both of us were hungry, so we headed to the aptly named Fish Street. We grabbed lunch at Fish N’ Chips (guess what we had), washed down with some delicious hot chocolate eggnog from The Tippling Toad. If I’d known that eggnog with alcohol was an option at most of the pubs, I would have held off, but live and learn. Sean and I did end up checking out one of those pubs next. He got a hot toddy and I had my first hot buttered rum. Have you ever had buttered rum? It is extraordinary. I’m not a huge rum fan, so this just reinforces my belief that butter makes anything delicious. Feeling the holiday spirit (read: alcohol), we continued to wander and ended up watching a street performer for far too long.

I had two goals in mind: finding sealing wax and finding absinthe. Both were easy enough. There was plenty of sealing wax on display at Oberon Leather. I wanted to splurge and get a nifty pewter ring to seal my letters, but they had a deal if you purchased the wax with an initial stamp, so I went with that. Besides, the idea of sealing my letters with my initial appeals to my ego. The woman who helped me was very kind. Everyone was, actually; the quality and consistency of their English accents varied, but their niceness did not! Sean and I next found ourselves at The Bohemian Pub, a traditional absinthe bar. I still think absinthe is kind of gross, but it was fun to sip nonetheless.

Absinthe still in hand, we ran into some friends and ended up at Mr. Fezziwig’s Dance Party. I don’t do any dancing, so I merely observed as my company learned the Spanish waltz. It didn’t look too difficult, but that’s easy to say from an outside perspective. Then—and you’re probably not going to believe this—Queen Victoria showed up. I had to practice my bowing (it had been a while). She danced with her subjects; that’s my kind of queen. Anyway, I was distracted by a little kid trying to play with my hair. “We don’t know him and he’d probably be weirded out if you started touching his hair,” his mom admonished. Honestly, I would not have minded.

Sean and I left Dickens Fair full, jolly, and exhausted. I wholeheartedly recommend it to any and all. Kids are sure to enjoy the majority of attractions, but there’s plenty there for adults, too—and I’m not just referring to the pubs. Entirely authentic? Not really. I’m pretty sure no one in Victorian England had an eyebrow piercing or was goth or used Purell. (H1N1, not such an issue for Charles Dickens.) Still, I was entranced. The Dickens Fair is a warm-hearted holiday escape, one I’d be glad to make again.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair runs every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through December 20. Adult tickets are $19 when purchased in advance and $22 at the door. Kids 5-11 are $10. Check the website for more information and discount tickets.

Photo by Raymond Van Tassel.