Great expectations for Dickens Festival

By Victoria Gill

Elm Staff Writer

The historic district of Chestertown is taking on a Victorian theme this winter to prepare for a weekend of holiday cheer.

Going into their second year, the “Dickens of a Christmas” festival, organized by Main Street Chestertown, will run from Dec. 7 – 9. This event will welcome residents of Chestertown and visitors with an extra merry greeting beyond First Friday festivities that coincide with extended shop hours.

Kay MacIntosh, the program manager for the festival, started planning for this year’s festival with Kathleen King, event chair and graphic designer, in February. MacIntosh, according to King, focused more on bringing in the entertainment while King herself focused on getting the word out. Their goal was to keep the event authentic.

“I could just visualize how everything would come together,” King said.

MacIntosh has been working for Main Street Chestertown for three years. In December 2016, new additions were made to First Friday as part of Winter Fest, the predecessor to “Dickens of  a Christmas.”

“It was that night, with the fires burning and the horses clip-clopping through the streets, that the idea for a Dickens weekend was born,” MacIntosh said.   

According to the Art at Chestertown website, “with ‘A Christmas Carol,’ Charles Dickens captured the Victorian revival of the holiday and helped establish our modern observance: family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, games, dancing, and festive generosity of spirit.”

King and MacIntosh started researching about Dickens and the period, and King said there was no better place to have this event than Chestertown. Since the buildings already evoked an English setting, all that was needed were decorations and costumes.

According to King, this year they were able to do a lot more with the festival that the time constraint last year held them back from.

King described MacIntosh’s determination to make the switch from Winter Fest to Dickens as smooth as possible, telling MacIntosh, “I think we can pull it off. We will pull it off.”

The only concern at the moment is whether the weather will permit clear skies or other.

“It helps to have ticket sales as indicators of interest and commitment.  Yesterday I got an email from an out-of-town gentleman asking if the Scotch Egg vendor would be returning. He had a great time last year and is returning this year with friends, and he wants his Scotch eggs. That’s what we like to hear,” MacIntosh said.

The event rented costumes from several local theaters, lending over 150 costumes to people who want to participate.

King described this interactive theater with people enjoying themselves by dressing up as “being a part of a play.”

“We knew we had the talent to embellish downtown with Victorian style and to showcase a lot of local and regional talents,” MacIntosh said. “It’s a great fit.  We love that so many people are willing and eager to don some Victorian garb to add to the atmosphere.”

A variety of artistic attractions are expected, including fire dancers, tea time with Scrooge, a lantern show, carriage rides, story tellers around bonfires, music from the world-traveling Celtic band: The American Rogues, and Santa Claus. There will also be crafts for families and several food vendors to recreate the tastes of 1840 Victorian England and warm attendees in the cold weather.

Fountain Park is taking on a new appearance, since it was adorned with a Christmas tree that was publicly lit last weekend.

King said that they want this event to be as inclusive and accessible as possible. She mentioned that a number of activities are free of charge to all.

MacIntosh encourages Washington College students and staff to come downtown for the festival.

“Take a study break and get some of your holiday shopping on,” MacIntosh said.

Assistant Professor of English Elizabeth O’Connor will speak at The Bookplate at 11 a.m. on Dec. 8 about Pamela Colman Smith’s art, which was shaped by the Victorian era of her childhood.

“Take advantage of all that’s offered. People can get out of their cars and just wander back to a time that’s simple,” King said.

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