Skaneateles, N.Y. - Visit Skaneateles this season, and you're guaranteed to have a Happy Christmas.
Imagine, if you will, that the year is 1842. Queen Victoria has arrived in Skaneateles, the teasel capital of the world, to meet with President John Tyler. Accompanying her is Charles Dickens, whom she has commissioned to write a story about Christmas.
"My hope is for a story that will illustrate the virtues we may find at Christmastime. That, and entertain my nine children," says Queen Victoria, portrayed by Maria Wechsler.
During his month-long stay to gather research for "A Christmas Carol," Dickens encounters a bevy of now-familiar characters, including Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present and the Ghost of Jacob Marley, along with finishing school girls, pickpockets and other villagers.
Each week the story unfolds, as Dickens and his entourage interact with cast members and passersby.
Dickens Christmas, now in its 22nd season, draws more than 20,000 visitors each year. It is produced by Scarlett Rat Entertainment and presented by the Sherwood Inn, the Skaneateles Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation 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. 20, with a limited show (noon to 2:30 p.m.) Dec. 24.
Highlights of this year's season include:
• World's Smallest Christmas Parade. Nov. 27, 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, representing 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 Quarry Ridge Stables. Wagon rides are free; carriage rides are offered for a $20 donation.
• "A Christmas Carol" puppet shows, presented by The Guild of Thespian Puppets, at 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 5, 6, 19 and 20 at the Skaneateles Library.
• A snowman contest in Clift Park Dec. 13 (weather-permitting). Queen Victoria will judge the entries at 3 p.m.
• 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.
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 Jim Greene, of Dryden, who is producing director and plays Dickens. "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 production manager 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. This year's presenting sponsor is the Sherwood Inn.
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