With a snarl in his voice, a sneer on his face and a limp in his step, Scrooge took to the streets to chastise children and chide adults about their excessive Christmas spending habits. The setting was clearly from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. However, the location was not London, England in the middle of the 19th century. This is modern-day Carlyle, Saskatchewan.
The presence of Scrooge on Carlyle’s streets, along with cloaked carollers, bonnet-adorned vendors and orphaned beggars, sets visitors firmly in the Victorian era every December when the annual Dickens Village Festival is held. With white lights twinkling on lamp posts, pine garland strung from pole to pole and Christmas carols being sung in the distance, the rural Saskatchewan community of approximately 1,300 residents is transformed into a scene befitting a Christmas card.
The Dickens Village Festival, first held in 2003, was the brainchild of regional economic development officer Judy Riddell, whose goal was to bring life and vibrancy to the region.
“At the time, we were having this ‘poor-me’ Saskatchewan attitude,” says Riddell. “Our kids were leaving the province, my kids were all in Alberta, and we just thought what if we took the attitude of, ‘hey, don’t feel sorry for us, we’re having a great time.’”
That great time started with a well-attended inaugural festival, and has extended to an event that draws hundreds to Carlyle from miles around.
As the Victorian-attired town crier rang his bell, inviting visitors to High Tea, Fezziwig’s Family Pub, the English Market, the Lighted Parade and a theatre production of A Christmas Carol, it quickly became clear that an entire community was behind the event. From church groups, to the Cornerstone Theatre players, to sports clubs, students and businesses, community members of all ages dress up, entertain visitors, sell food on the street, and ensure that all guests are greeted with a friendly “good-day.”
The Dickens Village Festival features all the popular events of the past, including a Scrooge who criticizes people’s shopping habits until they take the time to stop, smile and enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.
For more information on the Dickens Village Festival, visit www.townofcarlyle.com.
Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Saskatchewan