After years of dithering, I hied myself to Galveston last year for the 38th Dickens on The Strand Festival. Once a year, Galveston’s Strand National Historic Landmark District trips back in time with a lavish two-day Victorian Christmas street festival. And what a trip it is! Everyone is invited to join Queen Victoria, pirate Jack Sparrow, ever-so-proper Londoners, chimneysweeps and steampunkers in celebrating a Victorian yuletide with pomp and pageantry
Get there early and power up with the Galveston Historical Foundation’s sumptuous breakfast buffet, perfect sustenance for the action-packed day ahead.
Start the day’s activities with an elephant ride; then enjoy bagpipers, jugglers, street musicians, magicians, Victorian street vendors, a gentlemen’s whisker revue and falconers. Be sure to catch the Victorian bed races, a rowdy event where contestants in period nightshirts push wheeled beds in fierce competition. Wintry weather even descends on Galveston thanks to the modern-day wizardry of snow machines.
Later, join the crowds lining the streets for the parade starring professional actor Anne Boyd as a resplendent Queen Victoria, riding in an open carriage accompanied by a royal retinue of soldier re-enactors, a drum corps and members of the Charles Dickens family.
For those with stamina to go all day, a steampunk ball on Saturday night rounds out the marvelous magic. The ball was a wildly fanciful mash-up of Jules Verne, punk and Tim Burton. Think fashion and set design from “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” a Burton film starring Jim Carrey. Well worth the admission ticket for the people-watching alone.
If you can, dress up for the Victorian era and join in the merriment. Hundreds do. The streets lined with London bobbies, pirates, hoop-skirted ladies and frock-coated gentlemen make for a
picture-perfect ghost of Christmas past. Dig out a costume or make your own. Tips on making quick and easy costumes are available on the Galveston Historical Foundation’s website. Have fun. Let out your inner pirate, Eliza Doolittle or Ebenezer Scrooge, and you will get in for half-price ($7, not $14) at the gate. Rather sporting, I say! All the costumes make for the best crowd-watching ever.
A tour of the 1877 iron square-rigger Elissa and visiting with her Victorian-era crew entranced me. But just off the tall ship’s bow and doing their best to steal the show was a pod of bottlenose dolphins, leaping into the air with stunning acrobatics. Suitably dazzled, I retreated to the Olympia Grill at Pier 21 for sailor’s grog and a good meal of Gulf shrimp while I watched the show at my leisure.
Pick any spot along the pier or The Strand and enjoy the pageantry. The festival is magical time travel at its best and just the ticket to put one in a holiday spirit for Christmas 2012. I think I hear Tiny Tim and Scrooge wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Even Queen Victoria would have been amused.
Suzi Sands, art director