This year's Dickens Christmas Festival is delightful. There is something for everyone - young and old alike. I guarantee no one will wander around muttering "bah, humbug" - except for Scrooge, who performs nightly on Queen Victoria's stage.
The festival, now in its ninth year, has finally found an ideal location at the Utah State Fairpark. Previous places have been in the Old Mill, Triad Center and Salt Palace. But a year ago, it moved to the fairgrounds. And that move proved to be the right one. Last year, the festival attracted more than 62,000 people."This year, we have changed the whole configuration," said festival director Vickie Nelson. "To begin with, we've a lot more street theater and food menus."
She was about to continue with the list of changes but knew that I'd spot them if I just took time to look around.
This year, the entrance to the festival is on the west side of the Grande Building. It's spacious and attractively decorated, giving hints of what will be found inside.
The interiors of both the Grande and the Commons buildings have been transformed into Olde English villages. About 115 shops border a network of walkways. These "streets" have appropriate names, such as Holly Lane, Bumble Street, Jacob Marley's Alley, Fagin Way. and others.
The shops, manned by artisans dressed in Olde English attire, are filled with a variety of arts and crafts items which are creative, colorful and reasonably priced.
The Hand Embossing Shop sells miniature brass and tin stencils, as well as burnishing tools and light boxes. Dotting the walls of Ye Old Black Smith Shoppe are hand-torched metal signs and figures by Ken Dalley of LaVerkin, Utah. In Bunnies, Baubles and Beads, Shauna McCullough has individually molded heads, hands and feet from ceramic-like clay and fired them. She then attached them to doll-type bodies and dressed them in tailormade clothes.
In the shop Ta Ducky (welcome, friends) are arts and crafts by seven women who have formed a cooperative. Gifts range from scripture stickers to stuffed geese sculptures.
Utah's Hogle Zoo also has a shop. Docents show off some of the smaller creatures that live in the zoo. While there, I was introduced to Ricky, a 7-month-old boa constrictor; Otis, a screech owl; and Dallas, a western indigo snake.
Some of the fascinating shops in the Commons building have been named Picadilly Puffs, Granny's Carriage House, and Ye Old Sweet Shoppe.
Entertainment is continuous on the Oliver's and Queen Victoria's stages. During the two-week festival, over 11,000 children and adults will perform there, including cloggers, barbershop quartets and choir groups. Theatrical performances of "Oliver Twist" and "Scrooge" are held nightly, the first at 6:30 p.m. and the second at 8 p.m., with afternoon performances on Saturdays. And Cannaday's Marrionettes can be seen on the Squeers Theatre stage at 7:30 nightly and on Saturdays at 4 p.m.
Children will not only enjoy these performances, but will also want to talk with Father Christmas and listen to the stories by the roving puppet lady who carries more than a dozen hand puppets with her.
Anyone wishing a breath of fresh air will enjoy a free carriage ride in a 100-year-old horse-drawn carriage.
The festival continues daily through Saturday, Dec. 8, except on Sundays. Hours are 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tickets for the festival are $4 for adults, $3 for children ages 5-12 and $10 for a family pass (two adults and children under age 18). Discount coupons are available at Smith's Food and Drug Centers.