What to Do

Port Jefferson’s Dickens Festival Celebrating 20th Year

Port Jefferson will step back into the days of Christmas past for the 20th annual Dickens Festival, held this year on Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6. Take to the streets and celebrate as the town transforms into the setting of a Dickens novel. Carolers, parades, dramatic performances and holiday displays, all set the scene for a weekend of historic family fun.

Revelers in shawls and hoop skirts gather to sing carols in the streets. Visitors warm their hands over sidewalk bonfires as children toast marshmallows, horse and carriage rides stroll the streets, and music is heard around every bend. As per tradition, actors will perform free street plays throughout the weekend. Theater Three will be featuring their 32nd annual performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Harbor Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker at Port Jefferson High School.

In celebration of its 20th year, the festival is fully embracing the Victorian love of innovation and tradition. The festival will take place over Saturday and Sunday, beginning with a new Grand Opening Ceremony. “Let There Be Light” is a new light show projection that will be displayed at 6 p.m. on town hall. The lightshow will be shown for the two weekends following the festival.

A new event this year is Cookieland, located in the Harbormaster building. For a small fee, kids and their families can decorate their own holiday cookies. For more sweets, head over to Christ Church Episcopal for a “Chocolate Extravaganza.”

Not to be missed is the annual Festival of Trees, a decorating competition sponsored by local businesses. “The Festival of Trees is back with a vengeance,” says Allan Varela, Chair of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council. “We have 20 trees this year. The second floor of the village center is decorated to the nines… The sponsors try to outdo each other in how classy and decadent and irreverent the trees can be. It’s really stunning. A must see.” The Festival of Trees display begins on December 5 and will remain open through the month of December.

The Port Jefferson Free Library is displaying photos from past Dickens’ Festivals. Take a peek into the festival’s past, and learn more about the 20-year tradition in “What the Dickens!,” a talk given by Chamber of Commerce Director of Operations Barbara Ransome.

In the spirit of the season, Toys for Tots will be taking donations at the Traintastic Train Display at 415 East Main Street. Bring unwrapped new toy donations to the location to spread some holiday cheer while enjoying the intricate train displays. For even more fun with model trains, visit the Dickens Cottage beside the library, where another display features a model Pegasus, a classic locomotive named by Dickens himself. The trains will weave their way beside a Dickensian parlor, and special items will be available for purchase.

The festival concludes on Sunday with the Giant Puppet Parade and a closing ceremony skit with street characters. As always, a majority of activities are free of charge. “We have 160 events happening, between all of the churches, the masonic lodge, Santa’s workshop,” says Varela. “We have groups and street characters and caroling. But my favorite part is the Dickensian philosophy of helping the underdog. We have events in which donations are requested. They benefit food pantries and drives. Families who don’t have a lot of money can fully enjoy the festival… It’s just the whole feel of what goes on. I love that aura of caring in Dickens tradition.”

So head down to Port Jefferson this December, and get into the holiday spirit. Spread some joy, and take a step back into yesteryear. It truly is, as Varela says, “a splendid time guaranteed for all.”

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