For each of the last 21 years, Charles Dickens has spent a month in this charming lakeside village, gathering research for his soon-to-be written classic "A Christmas Carol."
On village streets, he encounters Scrooge, Tiny Tim, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, the Ghost of Jacob Marley, President John Tyler, and a bevy of other characters ranging from finishing school girls to pickpockets.
Magic, music and merriment prevail, as the revels play and guests ride by in horse-drawn carriages.
Why does he return to Skaneateles year after year?
"It is the unfathomable connection to that human condition of joy that comes with the spirit of giving, which is so abundant in this delightful little hamlet," says producing director Jim Greene, who has played Dickens for more than a decade.
"It is the festive decor and the cheerful demeanor of all who visit with family and friends to share the warmth of community. It is the elemental beauty of the frozen waters and snow-draped roofs highlighted by the crisp, bright blue sky.
"As long as I am able, I shall return again and again to wrap myself in the warm blanket that is Christmas in Skaneateles."
Dickens Christmas, which draws more than 20,000 visitors each year, is produced by Scarlett Rat Entertainment and presented by Mirbeau Inn & Spa and the Skaneateles-area business community.
The production opens the Friday after Thanksgiving and runs noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 21, with a limited show (noon to 3 p.m.) Dec. 24.
Highlights of this year's season include:
• World's Smallest Christmas Parade. Nov. 28, starting at noon at the Skaneateles Village Hall on Fennell Street, proceeding east to Jordan and Genesee streets and arriving at the Sherwood House porch in time for the 12:10 p.m. grand opening.
• Midday Revels-Christmas carol sing-along-2 p.m. every day at the Gazebo. Twelve groups form, each representing one of the 12 days of Christmas. The groups vie for attention, and at the end, Queen Victoria awards a silver teasel to the most spirited performer. Winners have been known to wear their coveted silver teasels throughout the season.
• Scenes from "A Christmas Carol," featuring guests from the audience, performed at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on the steps of the Masonic Temple.
• Horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides around the village, departing from the Sherwood Inn, provided by Rt. 80 Stables. Wagon rides are free; carriage rides are $20 per family.
• Comedy magic shows, presented by John Henry Anderson, Wonderful Wizard of the North, at 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 6, 7, 20 and 21 at the Skaneateles Library.
• Free refreshments, including hot roasted chestnuts donated by Tops Friendly Markets and Johnny Angel's and roasted by Mid-Lakes Navigation, warm Christmas Pudding at Mid-Lakes Navigation, and Byrne Dairy eggnog served by the Girl Scouts (Saturdays only) in front of Loft 42.
For children, Mother Goose will read holiday stories at the Skaneateles Library and Father Christmas will hand out treats from the porch of the Masonic Temple.
Everyone is invited to borrow Victorian-era costumes from the Chamber of Commerce, 22 Jordan St., and join in the fun.
"While you're in town, be sure to visit our unique shops and restaurants, which are the perfect complement to a holiday outing," says Tara Lynn, executive director of the Chamber.
One Scrooge Exits, Another Takes Center Stage
After 20 years of playing Scrooge, Bob Krigbaum is leaving the production and turning over his debt register to John Michael Decker.
"I'm tired of asking for my money," Krigbaum jokes. "No one has paid me back, so I quit." Decker stepped into the role last year, when Krigbaum became unavailable due to an injury. Prior to that, Decker had been with the cast two seasons, playing Bob Cratchit in 2007 and Prince Albert in 2012.
"It's an honor to be taking over for Bob," he says. "Bob was amazing-it's humbling to follow in his footsteps."
Decker has already made one change to Scrooge, who now appears at the Midday Revels to heckle carolers and join in the singing of "Silent Night."
Behind the Scenes
Dickens Christmas has a cast of about 70, including young apprentice talent, which is joined by a variety of guest musicians and caroling groups. The show comes together in just six rehearsals.
"We pack a lot in and streamline the process of building a character," says producing director Jim Greene, of Dryden. "Every actor learns music and uses improvisational techniques to build his character and become part of the ensemble."
Greene is assisted by:
• Maria Wechsler, of Marcellus, who is artistic director and plays Queen Victoria
• Kristen Baskewicz, of Rochester, who is music director and plays Lady Charlotte Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch
• John Michael Decker, of Queensbury, who is associate director and plays Scrooge
• Brett Norsworthy, of Wolcott, who is managing secretary and plays undertaker Barry M. Deep
• Tracey Greene, of Dryden, who is costume director
Dickens Christmas is made possible by the sponsorship support of nearly 150 local businesses.
The festival is further supported through ticket sales from a Dickens Raffle. Grand prize is a $1,000 gift certificate from Mirbeau Inn & Spa. Tickets, on sale at the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce and other village locations, are $5 each, three for $10, 10 for $20.
For more information on Dickens Christmas, go to www.skaneateles.com, call 315-685-0552, or follow the event on Facebook (Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles) or Twitter (@DickensXmas).
Group M Communications