Imagine strolling along a wooded lane shopping for top hats, canes and Victorian jewelry. The smell of hot buttered rum and roasted nuts wafts through the December air. You are surrounded by clusters of carolers dressed as if they just walked off the set of a BBC period drama. A town crier announces upcoming entertainment and in the nearby dining hall, a holiday meal is being served. The sounds of good-natured revelry tumbles out of a cozy pub.
This may sound like a trip back in time, but it is what patrons can experience for the next two weekends at A Dickens Christmas Festival in Eminence.
Ed Frederick, general manager of Kentucky Renaissance Fair, which operates a renaissance festival in Eminence for six weeks each summer, is a lifelong fan of Charles Dickens' iconic 19th-century holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, and created the festival three years ago.
"I watch the movie every Christmas Eve," he says of his enthusiasm for Dickens. "It's one of my favorite stories ever."
After making adjustments to the event's offerings a couple of years ago, Frederick has created a unique way to enjoy a Victorian Christmas.
The renaissance fair's venue, a large farm, has been equipped with a pub, a dining hall, restrooms and structures for vendors. It's also being used to host off-season events including concerts and Celtic-themed festivals, and, for the third time, A Dickens Christmas Festival.
A cornerstone of the festival is the entertainment. Every 30 minutes throughout the festival day, noon to 6 p.m., an ensemble of actors performs 10-minute segments of A Christmas Carol. A town crier announces where the next scene will be at the end of each skit. Between scenes, patrons can have a holiday meal in the dining hall, drink period-accurate drinks in the pub, or shop at the more than 15 vendors selling items including Victorian clothes, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, scarves, kilts, books and crafts.
"We started out just doing the play," Frederick says of the event's inaugural year.
The venue is the kind of place you spread out and explore, a kind of mini-village, and is not conducive to sitting still and watching a play for a couple of hours. Patrons like to roam, mingle, shop, eat and drink.
"It's really a very neat format," Frederick says of the changes he and his team made to the festival. "The good part about it is that everybody knows the story, so if people come for the first half of the day and can't stay for whatever reason, they still enjoy it."
"We try to make it as realistic as possible," Frederick says of the costumes and historic elements like the town crier.
As with renaissance fairs everywhere, Dickens patrons are encouraged to dress up in Victorian clothing, but it is not required. However, Frederick provides a good incentive for costumes: prizes.
"We have a steampunk competition and award prizes for best male and female costumes," he says, referring to a popular subgenre of science fiction usually set in 19th-century Victorian England. "The winners receive season passes to the upcoming renaissance festival."
The festival is part of Frederick's plans to expand the venue's offerings.
"It's going to be a multi-purpose venue," he says. "We want to expand to where we're almost open year-round."
Frederick is looking into booking concerts and creating a pumpkin patch and corn maze for autumn, among other possible uses of the venue.
But for the next few weekends, it will offer festivalgoers a trip back in time.
IF YOU GO
A Dickens Christmas Festival
When: Noon-6 p.m. Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15
Where: Kentucky Renaissance Faire festival grounds, 955 Elm St., Eminence
Tickets: $5. Available at the gate.
Learn more: Kyrenfaire.com
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.