The high sheriffs of this rag twisted my arm to write about Victorian Christmas celebrations out West.
I’m no Scrooge, but I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we celebrate Christmas with the Mexican tradition of Las Posadas and then stroll from bonfire to bonfire, freezing our butts off on Canyon Road.
Sure, the Cowtown Palace in San Francisco throws a fun Great Dickens Christmas Fair, but Victorian tea and London bobbies? Hey, I like beefeaters, just preferably in a gin and tonic.
Yet since 2012 marks Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday, and I need this paycheck for my own holiday shopping, I have conceded. Besides, I know Dickens came to the West. I remember that episode of Bonanza!
St. Louis, if ever America had a Dickensian city, decks the halls at the Tower Grove House, the Victorian home of Henry Shaw, who founded the Missouri Botanical Gardens. This year’s festivities take place from November 21 to December 30 and include storytelling on Saturdays and children’s events.
I bet there’s Dickens-bashing too. After all, Dickens visited St. Louis in 1842 and questioned the “unhealthiness of the place” in his American Notes, noting that St. Louis is “very hot, lies among great rivers, and has vast tracts of undrained swampy land around it….”
Just over the river and down the road, Lebanon, Illinois, also celebrates Christmas with a flair for Dickens, and with good reason. Some folks say Dickens’s stop there inspired him to write A Christmas Carol. Maybe St. Louis inspired him to pen Bleak House.
(Being a longtime Kansas City Royals fan, I side with Dickens on St. Louis.)
When I think about Christmas, however, I picture snow in the mountains. So that brings me to Colorado Springs, Colorado—a land of castles.
Since 1988, denizens have celebrated the holiday with a festive Madrigal Dinner at Glen Eyrie, the castle of railroad magnate William Jackson Palmer. If a five-course dinner is not enough, visitors can even spend the night.
Wait a minute. Glen Eyrie’s not Victorian, but 17th century. In fact, I’d say it’s more John Milton than Dickens. That’s why they call it a Renaissance Castle Christmas.
It’s all Victorian, however, at the Miramont Castle Museum, the sandstone structure built by William Frizzell and sons in the 1890s. Homemade refreshments, entertainment and Victorian elegance abound during the three-day celebration this November 23-25.
If you don’t like cold weather, try Galveston, Texas, and the Dickens on the Strand Festival held this December 1-2.
Until the 1900 hurricane decimated the city, Galveston was the fourth largest city in Texas and was second only to New York’s Ellis Island in terms of immigration. By the early 1970s, the downtown area of brick, stucco and cast-iron storefronts had fallen into disrepair. Enter the Galveston Historical Foundation, which wanted to save those buildings and revive the area.
Dickens on the Strand started as a one-night potluck dinner, grew into a day-long street festival and eventually a two-day festival encompassing roughly 12 square blocks that brings in 35,000 visitors from all over the world.
“It did exactly what it was supposed to do,” says events director Clay Wade, “and that was bring attention to the neglected downtown region.”
Far from neglected today, all but three buildings in the Strand National Historic Landmark District have been restored, and the focus on the festival today is the largest fundraiser for the Galveston Historical Foundation.
That kind of Christmas present could make even an anti-Victorian, pro-Las Posadas guy like me say: “God bless us, every one!”
Charles Dickens is one of Johnny D. Boggs’s favorite authors, but his favorite holiday story remains “Stubby Pringle’s Christmas” by Jack Schaefer.