I did not grow up celebrating Christmas; like many other Jews, my family spent the holiday eating Chinese food, watching movies, and looking quizzically at our friends who went to midnight mass. Christmas was for Christians, holiday lights were for goys, and we weren’t among the 32% of Jews who have Hanukkah bushes. While I would always be a bit more cheerful when Hanukkah fell on the same day as Christmas (as it does this year), I never felt left out of the holidays. That is, until November 25th, 2016.
That was the day I took part in a beloved Bay Area tradition, The Dickens Fair -- a fantastical world based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is on full dioramic display inside the Cow Palace in Daly City. I had heard merry musings about this event over the years, mostly from my Renaissance Faire-attending (and often Christmas-celebrating) friends, but in nearly 30 years of Bay living I was unaware of the sheer spectacle that is Victorian London. Here, hundreds of costumed actors interact with equally well-attired attendees throughout 120,000sqft of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops.
This dreamscape has sprung to life nearly every year since 1970. During each day of the Fair’s five weekend run, every day is Christmas Eve and filled with the merriment you would expect from your least dysfunctional side of the family. The air smells of cinnamon and nutmeg, the music is upbeat, and the “streets of London” are lined with lively shopkeepers ready to sell you finery for under your tree (or Hanukkah bush). Even I can get behind a version of 1850s London where everyone is in good spirits, so my friend and I donned our rose-colored, anachronistic glasses and headed back in time to the least depressing version of a Dickens novel.