Dickens of a Christmas coming

WELLSBORO — It’s one of the hottest events in Wellsboro and it happens in the dead of winter. The 35th annual Dickens of a Christmas celebration starts on Nov. 30 and continues on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2. It’s one of the best getaway weekends of the year.

Dickens of a Christmas was the brainchild of a small group of local folks who one day mused about how special it would be to have a winter event in Wellsboro. Wellsboro is well known for its annual Laurel Festival celebration in June and they thought adding a winter event would round out the visitor experience to the town.

That first year, in 1983 there were nine vendors. Since then, the event has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2017, more than 175 craft and food vendors lined the streets with unique gifts.

Julie VanNess, executive director of the Wellsboro Chamber of Commerce, is quick to point out that although the Chamber pulls the event together every year, what people see that weekend is more than the nuts and bolts work of having set up the vendors and planned out the days of the celebration.

“What makes Dickens of a Christmas so special is what the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t do. The community comes out to put on this event. They are doing something they love to do. And that’s why it flourishes. Visitors sense that people come out for the love of the event,” VanNess said.

The weekend begins Nov. 30 with all-day sales at local retailers. A Department 56 Dickens Village Display and Victorian portraits, taken by a professional photographer, will be at the Deane Center, 104 Main St. There also are indoor craft shows at various locations and a book sale at the Green Free Library, 134 Main St., in the afternoon.

The Trinity Lutheran Church will hold a Dickens of a Dinner that afternoon, followed by the movie “The Man who Invented Christmas” shown at 7:15 p.m. at the Arcadia Theater, 50 Main St. One of the finest children’s choirs around, the locally famous Hamilton Gibson Choirs, will perform A Dickens of a Concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at St. Peters Catholic Church, 38 Central Ave.

Tickets for the dinner, movie and concert can be bought at the door at each venue.

On Dec. 1, soak in the Victorian sights that take over Wellsboro’s historic downtown sidewalks and streets along Main Street. Four blocks of Main Street and surrounding side streets are blocked off during the day and the town transforms into a Victorian-era marketplace with a village, full of costumed strollers, singers, dancers and actors.

It’s an almost all-volunteer event that comes off perfectly every year. Add in Wellsboro’s iconic old-time gas street lights lining the central boulevard and it’s a perfect back drop for a good time.

Sales start at 9 a.m. and there is lots of hustle and bustle as Victorian costumed arts and crafts vendors set up for the day along Main Street. The smell of roasting peanuts wafts through the streets as the events begin for the day.

Early bird shoppers line up in lawn chairs in the pre-dawn hours to wait for their favorite craftsman to start sales of “Bucky trees.” Bucky trees are created by Bucky Green, a vendor who has come to Dickens of a Christmas for many years, and uses hardwood branches of oak, elm and other woods to make a pine tree statue. Typically Bucky trees sell out by early morning.

There will be a variety of baked goods, hot chocolate, soups, puddings, pies, sandwiches, cider, peanuts, coffee and other goodies for purchase including the always quickly-sold-out apple dumplings.

If you’re tired, take a seat and people watch. Visitors bring their dogs, often in costume for the day. Costumed men, women and children stroll around adding to the Victorian atmosphere. There is a town crier who is easy to spot and to hear. Mountain men and Victorian townspeople, jesters and thespians, street urchins and scalawags and Mr. and Mrs. Claus — you name it, they might be at Dickens. Even Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past have been seen at Dickens.

Stop by the United Methodist Church, 36 Main St.; Wellsboro Senior Center, Queen Street; or the Firemen’s Annex, East Avenue, for more crafts. Peek in at the model train display and cookie sale at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, corner of Pearl and Charles streets. Stop and listen to the costumed carolers and street actors performing along Main Street. The Wellsboro Men’s and Women’s choirs will perform in front of the Arcadia Theater Dec. 1 and they welcome you to sing along. The Wellsboro High School Dickens Choir also will perform that morning.

Hamilton Gibson Productions will perform “A Christmas Carol” at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Coolidge Theatre and 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Warehouse Theatre, just off Main Street.

The Main Street Victorian Strolls will be at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 1. Costumed visitors parade Main Street dressed in Victorian garb. Anyone is welcome to dress up and come to the Deane Center from 9:30 a.m. to noon to register for the Best Dressed for Dickens 2018 contest. John and Sara Vogt, of Wellsboro Home Page, hold this event and provide the prizes for the winners. The afternoon stroll will be after the Best Dressed winner is chosen.

There also is an open house at the Tioga County Historical Society; trolley tours to Highland Chocolates, the local chocolate factory; the Christmas Fair at the First Presbyterian Church, 130 Main St.; and a juried regional art exhibit and holiday market at the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center, 134 Main St.

Finish the day with an after-dark Candlelight Walk for Peace that parades past the town’s Main Street gaslights from Packer Park to The Green for holiday speeches, songs and an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus. Bring a candle, share that light with others and feel the sense of community and commonality only a small town can give. Have the kids stand with Santa for pictures and let them tell him what they want for Christmas and wait for the Christmas tree lighting on the Green to end the day.

On Dec. 2, the Juried Art Exhibit continues at the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center at 11 a.m. Another movie showing will be at 2:15 p.m. and the celebration ends with a 2:30 p.m. performance of “A Christmas Carol.”

“The experience on Dickens weekend is very much like stepping back in time. Whether you come for the food, or for a unique gift, or even for just the spectacle of seeing the town transformed for the day, there really is something for everyone,” VanNess said.